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Is Kenya Becoming a Terrorist Haven?
Police accused of complicity as terror suspect shuttles in and out of country
Zachary Ochieng (Zach)     Print Article 
Published 2008-08-28 03:07 (KST)   
Is Kenya becoming a terrorist haven? That is the question on the lips of international security agents following last week's failure by the Kenyan police to capture Fazul Abdullah, an al-Qaida-linked terrorist who was said to be holed up in a house in the port city of Mombasa.

Fazul, a Comoran, is the mastermind behind the Aug. 7, 1998, twin bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which more than 300 lives were lost and over 5,000 people severely wounded. He is also linked to the Nov. 28, 2002, bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya's coastal town of Kilifi, besides an attempt to bring down an Israeli airliner full of Israeli tourists.

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Unfortunately, due to porous borders, an inefficient intelligence service and possible police complicity, Fazul continues to visit Kenya and is presently believed to be in the country. Questions now abound over the efficiency of the Kenyan police, from whose custody the terrorist has escaped thrice.

In last week's incident, Fazul escaped using scaffolds just as a contingent of 40 heavily armed police officers was busy breaking doors to a house he was allegedly occupying. In another botched raid early in the month, a combined force of the elite Kenya anti-terrorism police unit and the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) arrived a few minutes late at a flat in the coastal town of Malindi, where Fazul was said to be holed up.

Apparently, Fazul had been tipped off on the impending raid and escaped, leaving behind a laptop and two passports. Instead, the police arrested Mahfudh Ashur, his wife Luftiya Abubakar and his son Ibrahim Ashoo. The trio was then charged with harboring a terrorist, drawing protests from the Muslim community, which has been at loggerheads with the government over the manner by which it handles its members perceived to be associated with terrorists.

But what has drawn the ire of Kenyans most is the manner in which Fazul escaped. Information from police sources revealed that Fazul got wind of the impending raid a few minutes before the police arrived at his flat. But just who tipped him off? It is against this background that the police are being accused of complicity, given that Fazul could only have been tipped off by one of their own.

The matter is compounded by the fact that the terrorist has thrice escaped from police custody under mysterious circumstances. On Aug. 1, 2003, police succeeded in arresting him only for his accomplice Faisal Nasur Ali to blow himself up with a hand grenade as they waited to be taken to police cells. Fazul then escaped in the ensuing melee.

How can the police explain this? In normal police operations, any suspect arrested is first frisked for weapons. That the police could drive the suspects all the way to the police station without knowing that they were dangerously armed only suggests negligence or culpability.

In yet another daring escape, he slipped away after spending a night in police custody after being arrested for robbery. The explanation being bandied around is that the police did not know they were holding a most wanted terrorist with a $5 million bounty on his head. During this particular incident, he tricked police into believing that he was accompanying them to his house for a search on stolen goods, only for him to sprint away.

It was also in the same year that he escaped after being arrested for credit card forgery. In January last year, soon after the war pitting Ethiopian forces in Somalia against the Islamists, the US carried out an airstrike in south Somalia ostensibly to kill Fazul, but he still managed to escape. Last year, he twice escaped the police dragnet in the run-up to the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, where he was allegedly plotting an attack.

The upshot of all these developments is that Fazul must be having a very effective intelligence network or a couple of senior police officers on his payroll. Be that as it may, the Kenyan police cannot resist the temptation to pocket a few hundred dollars and look the other way as the terrorist continues with his escapades. After all, they are among the most corrupt in the world. Despite police spokesman Eric Kiraithe's denials of police complicity in the matter, the circumstances under which Fazul continues to escape from police custody or evade arrest are quite telling.

That the suspect continues to visit Kenya, traveling under various aliases and using Kenyan travel documents, only points to his connections with police and perhaps immigration officials. It also means that the war on terror has yet to be stepped up. With lawlessness in Somalia and the proliferation of small arms into Kenya, the war on terror is far from being won. No wonder, Fazul was planning another attack just as Kenyans were preparing to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1998 bombings.

Kenya also needs to rework the 2003 Antiterrorism Bill. Hurriedly published hot on the heels of the August 1998 bomb attacks on the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the November 2002 bombing of the Israeli-owned Paradise Lodge, the bill has attracted the ire of human rights groups for being a replica of the 2003 US Patriot Act, a law hastily passed in October 2001, soon after the World Trade Center attacks as an American response to terrorism on American soil.

One of the sections that make this bill a "killer law" is Section 40 (3), which authorizes police officers to kill without any criminal or civil liability. In a country where police killings have been the order of the day, the passage of this law in its current form will certainly result in a number of unexplained deaths, especially of suspects held in police custody. "A member of the police force, customs officer or other officer who uses such force as may be necessary for any purpose, in accordance with this Act, shall not be liable in any criminal or civil proceedings for having, by the use of force, caused injury or death to any person," the contentious section states.

In the final analysis, Kenya needs to come up with a proper law to fight terrorism and the police and intelligence officers need to get their act together. As it is, Kenya already has a bad name after being accused of harboring Felicien Kabuga, the mastermind of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, who is still at large. Despite having a $5 million bounty on his head, Kabuga is believed to be quietly running his businesses in Kenya and enjoying the protection of senior government officials.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Zachary Ochieng

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