Police focus on Kwale in push to crack terror cells

Onlookers at the scene in Kibundani, Kwale County, where terror suspect Mohamed Mapenzi and his two children were shot dead by police officers on May 30, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Series of raids on suspects’ homes in the recent past has seen the arrest of several people alleged to be linked to terrorism.
  • Region’s police bosses say they were not involved in recent raids.

Police at the Coast have trained their guns on terror cells in the region, with Kwale County emerging as their main focus.

In the last one week, officers from the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) have conducted at least four raids targeting people believed to have links with terrorism.

The latest raid happened early morning on Thursday when heavily armed officers stormed the family home of wanted terror suspect Juma Athman Mwengo in Lunga Lunga, Kwale.

The officers, according to family members, broke the main door of the house at around 3am before they ransacked each room as they looked for Mr Mwengo.

During the raid, however, Mwengo, who was once arrested in 2017 with explosive materials and charged with terrorism, was not in the house.

After his earlier arrest, he had been charged at the Mombasa court and released on bond, never to be seen again.

In March last year, police raided a house in Ng’ombeni where Mwengo was believed to be hiding with another suspect, but missed them.

The police say the suspects, who are believed to be members of Harakat, an Al Shabaab faction, are “armed and dangerous”.

Yesterday, Mr Hassan Juma, the suspect's elder brother, claimed that the officers assaulted and harassed members of the family as they questioned them of the whereabouts of the suspect.

“The officers broke the house using some explosives whose noise shocked the children who were asleep. After they forcefully entered in the house, they started asking us about the whereabouts of Athman, who was not in the house,” said Mr Juma.

He said one of the four children in the house was injured during the chaotic operation and was taken to hospital.

“They have left my house and households damaged. Why did they not come in a good way to ask if we know of the whereabouts of the person they are looking for?” posed Mr Juma.

After their search in the house, the officers, Mr Juma said, took his other brother, Mr Omar Mwengo, whom they appeared to have mistaken for the suspect.

The officers walked with Mr Omar to where they had parked their vehicles then they released him.

“It looks like they got wrong information, that’s why they came to torment us. We don’t know of his whereabouts for two years now,” he said.

The Kwale incident happened only three days after people suspected to be the anti-terror police allegedly abducted two Muslim clerics and a caretaker after a raid at a Madrasa in Mtondia, Kilifi County.

The three, identified as Sheikh Khalid Swaleh, famously known as Sheikh Kaka, Ustadh Juma Shamte and the Madrasa caretaker only identified as Hassan were reportedly forcefully taken on Sunday at around 1am.

“Markaz Noor Mtondia has been raided tonight around 1am by people suspected to be anti-terrorist police, after a lot of searching and harassment they took Sheikh Khalid Kaka away. Let make dua for him and also spread the word to family and friends,” Sheikh Abu Hamza, a Mombasa cleric posted on his Facebook when the incident happened.

The officers are also said to have questioned how many passports Sheikh Kaka possessed as they went around the houses and the Madrasa, which are in the same compound.

The Nation understands that Sheikh Kaka has previously been subjected to interrogations by the ATPU over his activities at his Madrassa and has recorded a statement at the Urban Police Station in Mombasa on the same.

He was summoned in 2017 after police questioned his activities at a Madrasa in Chumani where 21 students were arrested and later released.

The disappearance of the three in Kilifi happened only three days after another man, Abubakar Kalama, was abducted in a similar style in Mtongwe, Likoni sub-county, Mombasa.

Mr Kalama, 25 was forcefully taken from his house on Thursday by the people believed to be police officers who were accompanied by a white foreigner at around 2am.

The people, who identified themselves as security agents, broke into Kalama’s house and ransacked it before they left with him.

A police source who is involved in some of the operations said “he wondered why Kalama had been arrested as a track of his activities had not been found to be fishy”.

Meanwhile, the raids, which police bosses in the region have denied involvement of their officers in, have taken a similar pattern of suspects going missing with others being killed.

The South Coast, where police sources said the terror cells were allegedly active, has seen at least three suspects being felled this year.

Between April and May this year, at least three suspects were killed in Kwale County after being alleged to be members of terror groups.

They include Mohammed Mapenzi, who police said were taken to his house by another terror suspect Said Chitswa. Mapenzi’s killing sparked outrage in the region as two children were also felled during the operation.

His killing happened after that of Suleiman Ali Kodza, who was gunned down a day after he escaped a police dragnet in Mombasa.

Kodza, alias Pembe, who police had termed as an Al-Shabaab ringleader in Diani, was shot and killed in Ngerenya, South Coast.

Police reports stated that Kodza is believed to be in the same group with Mapenzi and were planning to carry out an attack at a police station with a mission of stealing firearms.

Police linked him to the killing of two officers who were guarding St Paul's ACK Church in Ukunda in September 2017.

Human rights groups and political leaders have condemned police over the abductions and killings of the terror suspects.

Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri) rapid response officer Francis Auma said killing and abduction will never be a solution to the war on terrorism at the Coast.

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir said he will take the issue on the recent disappearances to parliament for discussion in a bid to help the affected families.

amohamed@ke.nationmedia.com