A terror suspect arrested in Denmark for attacking a cartoonist condemned by Muslim extremists jumped bail in Kenya and fled to Europe last September, the Sunday Nation can reveal.
The man – identified by Kenyan anti-terrorism officials as Muhidin Gelle – was in intelligence crosshairs while in Kenya and stands accused of planning a terror attack in Nairobi during the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The anti-terrorism officials traced Mr Gelle to a residence in Eastleigh where he had gone to visit another man who is high on Kenya’s anti-terrorism watch list.
The man in whose company he was found, the Sunday Nation learnt, is a one-legged student of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who is believed to have been killed last September 14 in a US special forces commando strike south of Mogadishu.
As it turned out, Mr Gelle, who was suspected to be an Al Shabaab field commander, did not have any identification documents on him, but under interrogation, he gave his full name and claimed to be a Danish citizen.
Kenyan authorities contacted the Danish Embassy which confirmed that there was a passport holder with such a name.
In interviews with the Sunday Nation, anti-terrorism officials, who cannot be named without compromising their operations, charged that Mr Gelle’s stay in Kenya had been “well-facilitated by notorious logisticians who continue to operate with impunity, taking full advantage of the fact that Kenya has no anti-terrorism legislation”.
One of the officials told the Sunday Nation that: “He (Gelle), together with four others arrested with him, were charged with being in Kenya illegally and were released on bond. He jumped bail and went back to Denmark. The Embassy of Denmark was well-informed of his connections with Somalia and the Al Shabaab.”
The terror suspect arrived in Kenya just days before a high-profile visit by Mrs Clinton and was accused of planning to stage an attack in Nairobi somewhere between Kencom bus stage on City Hall Way, KICC and the Hotel Inter-Continental.
The Sunday Nation exclusively reported the arrest of the man, who was held for seven weeks before he fled to Denmark.
The same 28-year-old man resurfaced last week after he raided the home of 74-year-old Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who has been the target of Muslim ire since 2005 for his portrayal of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.
The attack took place late on January 1 when a man subsequently identified as Mr Belle broke into Mr Westergaard’s house in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city carrying a knife and an axe.
He fled with his granddaughter into a safe room and summoned police with a panic button.
The head of Denmark’s PET intelligence agency Jakob Scharf said in a statement that the attack was “terror-related”.
“The arrested man has, according to PET’s information, close relations to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda leaders in eastern Africa,” Mr Scharf said. Mr Westergaard has been the focus of Muslim ire since drawing a cartoon showing Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.
Efforts by the Government of Kenya to introduce anti-terrorism laws have been thwarted by protests from Muslim and human rights activists who hold the position that it would take away basic rights from suspects. In 2003, the government published the Suppression of Terrorism Bill 2003 but it met stiff opposition.
“It contains measures that violate Kenyan law, human rights treaties to which Kenya is a party, and may result in human rights violations,” said global human rights lobby Amnesty International in a memorandum to the government.
The Immigration ministry is pursuing plans to issue selected aliens with identity cards on arrival and to relay the information to a central database which they hope will stem identity fraud out of Somalia.
“They have interfered with our registration system by forgery or bribery or trickery. We are now insisting that refugees are registered complete with thumbprints. We are putting a lot of pressure on them to register, or we will return them,” Minister Otieno Kajwang said.
“That is a thing which will be past when we go into the third generation identity cards. We already have the Integrated Personal Registration Service. The intention of that database is to have information on every Kenyan from birth to death. We will completely isolate those who have faked our documents.
This week, the Sunday Nation was shown a brief by anti-terrorism officials on a Ms Najma Dahir Shariff, one of the four suspects arrested in the Eastleigh swoop on Mr Gelle. They said she is the wife of a terrorist suspect currently fighting in Somalia.
“Both she and her husband had settled in Kenya and acquired false Kenyan identity cards. When Najma was arrested, she was charged with being in the country illegally, but she put up a spirited fight, alleging that she was born in Isiolo. However, when she discovered that the case against her was watertight, she jumped bail and secretly escaped to Somalia. Her associates, in the common conspiratorial manner, accused the police of having deported her to Somalia,” said the official.
In Kenya, anti-terrorism officials say they are concerned about the ease with which aliens acquire Kenyan identification documents.
“One of the major challenges facing security agents is the fraudulent acquisition of Kenyan identification documents by illegal aliens, especially of Somali origin,” said a senior counter-terrorism official.
“Unfortunately, this crime is abetted by our own Kenyan administrators who give false witness claiming that the foreigners are Kenyans.’’
Mr Kajwang admits the current system is not foolproof but says his ministry will this year install a more advanced system at all border points, at a cost of Sh1 billion, to curb the threats.