What you need to know:
- In the latest attack, residents stumbled on the naked body of an unidentified woman.
- A day earlier the body of a teacher was picked up a few metres from the same spot.
A bloodthirsty terror gang in the Nyanza/Western region is once again feared to be on the prowl in Migori County after months of silence, waylaying victims and brutally killing them before making away with their valuables.
Police have launched a manhunt for the machete-wielding gang calling itself ‘24 Brothers’ and said to be terrorising residents and launching deadly attacks during the dusk-to-dawn curfew.
In a seemingly well-choreographed scheme, the notorious gang operates in Migori town and neighbouring Awendo and Rongo.
Residents say the gang operates in groups, with some breaking into business premises as others keep watch. People who get in their way are often met with gruesome murder.
So feared is the gang that locals only speak about them in hushed tones, fearing reprisals from the criminals who are often armed with machetes, metal bars and other crude weapons.
In the latest attack, residents stumbled on the naked body of an unidentified woman, raising fresh fears of murder a day after the body of a teacher was picked up a few metres from the spot.
A necklace and a bracelet were left next to the body of the woman, who appeared to have been strangled.
The incident, which happened in Dago Kouma village, followed a series of murders that happened in the area after the government imposed the 7pm to 4am curfew in the lake region.
“No one knows the lady here in the village. She appeared slightly above her twenties and might have been strangled and the body dumped here the previous night,” said resident Galus Ouma.
This was the third killing in the area within two weeks.
The primary school teacher was murdered in cold blood and his badly mutilated body dumped in a thicket next to his home on Sunday.
Body dumped in thicket
Kevin Owuor, who taught at a private school in Migori town, was reported missing last Friday evening before he was found dead.
His family reported the matter at the Migori Police Station and continued searching for him on their own before students from the Kakrao Technical Training Institute stumbled upon his body.
“The 31-year-old father of one escorted out one of his neighbours on Friday evening but failed to return home,” Upper Kakrao Assistant Chief Wilfred Onyango said.
The man may have been killed elsewhere and his body dumped in the thicket, a few metres from his home, Mr Onyango said.
“There was no trace of blood but there were several panga cuts in his head. We suspect the assailants dumped the body in the thicket next to his home for easy identification,” he said.
On June 25, Migori town residents woke up to the shocking news that a farmhand was found murdered at Kimaiga estate on the outskirts of Migori town.
Traders spotted blood and signs of a struggle in a maize plantation, leading them to the body, said Suna Central Location Chief Caleb Ombura.
Killed and goods stolen
The body of the man, only identified as Sylus and aged between 45 and 50, was found at dawn.
“A pool of blood was found on a nearby maize plantation indicating the possibility of a struggle. His household equipment was strewn next to him,” Mr Ombura said.
Before this incident, a security guard was killed and goods stolen from the hardware store he was guarding.
Concerned residents say that after the curfew hour hits, police officers often retreat to their stations and don’t carry out patrols, leaving marauding gangs to roam the estates.
“From 8pm we are at the mercy of gangs. It looks like since the curfew was imposed police, who often arrest people in pubs to get bribes, go home as there are no people to extort from. The gangs have been left to freely terrorise us,” lamented Jackson Oyatta.
Residents suspect the gang was behind the killings and the rampant attacks happening during curfew hours.
Residents of Suna East and Awendo sub-counties, who have borne the brunt of the attacks, say the gang includes youths, who launch attacks during the curfew, breaking into shops and killing their victims before taking off with property.
With the Covid-19 restrictions imposed on hotspot counties in the lake region, residents are apprehensive that the attacks will become more frequent.
Migori County Police Commander Manaseh Musyoka said they are working on crucial leads and will flush out members of the dreaded gang.
Held hostage by gangs
“We are sifting through crucial information on the gang members and will soon get to them. Our officers are on high alert and are coordinating with local administrators in the affected areas to weed out the suspects,” he said.
He urged residents to share information on criminal elements, saying they live among them.
“Civilians should not be held hostage by gangs yet we have adequate security teams to protect lives and property,” he said.
But residents accuse law enforcement officers of complacency, saying they have failed to act though some of the suspects are known.
“Most of the gang members are young men who are well known. We have even raised concerns with the local administration, but they seem reluctant to crack down on these criminals,” said Charles Okuna, a trader at Kakrao shopping centre.
“We are not certain of our safety if drastic measures are not put in place to flush out the gang and bring this madness to a stop.”
Some residents blame the rising insecurity on lack of street lights on roadways. They claim Kenya Power disconnected the lights due to unpaid bills.
“The area has been quiet for some time but we are worried by the sharp surge in crime. It seems the gangs have taken advantage of the missing street lights to unleash terror on locals,” said Joy Onyango.
Spate of insecurity
Earlier in the year, residents of Oruba estate in Migori town and Masara town in Suna West sub-county complained about a surge in crime, with the same gang blamed.
In one incident, armed thugs broke into a church in Masara and made away with the public address system and assorted electronic goods.
Private homes, hotels and other businesses have not been spared either.
“Both the police and local leaders are to blame for the complacency because the incidents occur when civilians are indoors. With the curfew, locals entrust their property with law enforcers yet they seem to be doing little,” said Ben Migore, a resident of Suna West.
Awendo MP Walter Owino also shared similar concerns, saying muggings, house break-ins and assaults have been on the rise in Migori and urged more police patrols especially in the major towns of Migori, Awendo and Rongo.
“I personally blame the police for failing to carry out patrols, which end by 8pm. After that, it is vagabonds who rule towns,” Mr Owino said.
“It looks like the police forgot about patrols as there are no people to extort money from during the curfew.”
Suna East sub-county Deputy County Commissioner Kibe Maguta said investigations were underway into the recent spate of insecurity and they will enhance patrols in crime spots.
Uriri police division commander (OCPD) Peter Njoroge said they were targeting the gang.