What you need to know:
- In December 2011, Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists were planning attacks against specific targets in Kenya.
- A day after the grenade attacks, Kenyan police announced they had arrested Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, alias Mohammed Seif.
That the most trusted officers of the court can betray their country to terrorists is a classical demonstration of the enemy within.
In December 2011, Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorists were planning attacks against specific targets in Kenya, including the United Nations offices in Nairobi, Parliament and security installations. They were supposed to be retaliatory attacks.
Two months earlier, on October 16, President Mwai Kibaki had ordered the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to cross the border into Somalia in pursuit of militants who had carried out numerous cross-border raids. KDF soldiers are still in Somalia.
The plot against Kenya wasn’t an idle threat. Nairobi had been rocked by two separate grenade attacks on October 24, 2011.
The twin blasts, which came less than 24 hours of each other, weren’t initially considered terror attacks. After all, there had been no claim of responsibility.
The last time the country had witnessed a terrorist attack was on August 7, 1998. Then, nearly simultaneous bombs blew up in front of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Some 224 people were killed in the explosions and more than 4,500 wounded.
Since that time, all had been calm, until the grenade attacks on October 24, 2011. A day after the grenade attacks, Kenyan police announced they had arrested Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, alias Mohammed Seif.
Security officers also seized 12 grenades, an AK-47 assault rifle, four revolvers and a submachine gun. It was not until October 28, 2011, following Bwire’s confession, that security agencies would realise they were dealing with a terrorist attack.
Bwire stated he was a member of Al-Shabaab and was sentenced to life in prison after one of the fastest terrorism trials. But Bwire would later exploit a botched investigation to successfully appeal against the life sentence, which was reduced to 10 years. He was freed from Kamiti Maximum Security Prison on October 28 last year.
But he was abducted along with his cousin on their way to Eastleigh. They haven't been seen since.
Amid accusations he had been seized by security agents, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) placed a bounty of Sh10 million for Bwire’s capture, accusing him of plotting reprisal attacks.
Planned suicide attack
But classified documents Kenya submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last year to support its case in the maritime dispute with Somalia state that Bwire’s “real intention in October 2011 was much more disturbing than attacking ‘soft targets’ in Kenya”.
The Monitoring Group’s reports submitted to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) say the group had received information that Bwire had returned to Kenya to carry out a suicide attack.
It cited testimony from current and former Somalia-based Al Hijra fighters, a statement from a captured Al Hijra fighter returning from Somalia to Kenya, and an audio recording of a key Al Hijra facilitator of material support and resources.
Before his arrest, on October 7, 2011, an Al Hijra fighter based in lower Juba was researching on the internet tourist attractions in East Africa and US interests in Kenya. The terror suspect also sought information on sodium, hydrogen and isotopes.
“It is the assessment of the Monitoring Group that the above attempts by this particular fighter are consistent with several of Al Hijra’s aspirational plots,” reads the report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea pursuant to a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution in 2013.
“These include a reportedly abortive suicide plot, a plot to attack the Parliament of Kenya, and unconfirmed reports of a plot against former President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya,” according to extracts from the report, which was filed with the UNSC in October 2014.
Bwire’s association with Al Hijra dated back to 2009, when he reportedly attended a lecture titled “Role of the Youth in Da’wah”, delivered to Al Hijra (Muslim Youth Centre at the time) by Sheikh Ali Bahero on October 10.
On October 20, 2011, five days before his arrest, Bwire attended Mashujaa Day celebrations at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi, along with possibly between three and five other Al-Hijra members.
Audio recordings about the event suggest what may have been Bwire’s real intention. The recordings detail a January 19, 2013 meeting of Al Hijra fighters at the Hotel La Kairo in Mwanza, Tanzania.
In attendance at the meeting called to discuss the relocation of an Al Hijra cell from Kenya to a safe house in Tanzania was senior Al Hijra member Ibrahim Ramadan Hamisi, alias Ruta.
Ruta had previously fought alongside Al-Shabaab in Somalia but had returned to Kenya in 2010.
Ruta recalled his last meeting with Bwire.
“He [Bwire] was in a Gor Mahia [Kenyan football club] jersey... He and the other brothers decided that they would wait further instructions from Abu Zubeyr. You know, before that, he [Bwire] had undertaken some tasks here and there. The other brothers thought that he was now ready for Shahada because of the way he had handled the tasks.”
Ruta then described how he had parted with Bwire probably hours before his arrest.
“We [‘Ruta’ and Bwire] met and left each other around midnight. I left him looking for a place to spend the night. The following day we hired a taxi and escorted him to Coast Bus stage.
“As usual, he was carrying a rucksack, which contained the cargo. Some of the brothers were of the idea that the cargo be opened and others were refusing. The issue generated a lot of disagreement among the brothers.
“He was to travel to Coast. Upon our arrival he alighted and we left. He was arrested around 5am because we left one another around midnight.”
The recordings are archived with the UN. The Monitoring Group believes that Ruta was one of a few individuals who would have known Bwire’s main operational intent.
Rashid, a former Al-Shabaab fighter, alluded to Bwire’s possible suicide attack attempt by praising him that “the last time Bwire outsmarted them [Kenyan security services] even though it looked like the security was tight during the Mushujaa Day”.
The conversations are in the audio recording of Rashid at the Hotel La Kairo in Mwanza, Tanzania, on January 20, 2013.
But the jailing of Bwire was no deterrence, more trouble awaited Kenya. And Ruta would be in the heart of the plots.
Enter Thabit Jamaldin Yahya, alias Bobby, and his associate Jermaine John Grant. Thabit had been recruited from Kibera in Nairobi to become an Al Hijra Somalia-based fighter.
Thabit had claimed he was inspired into jihad by watching and listening to the lectures of the UK extremist Omar Trevor Brooks, alias Abu Izzadeen, the spokesman of the UK-banned Al Ghurabaa.
On the other hand, Grant, known in terrorism circles as the ‘bomb instructor’, was a UK national who identified himself more with the Al-Qaida cause than Al-Shabaab.
The Monitoring Group believes Thabit and a group of possibly five other Somalia-based Al Hijra fighters left Kismayo in December 2011. On December 20, 2011, Grant was arrested in Mombasa with his close associate Fuad Abubakar Manswab, alias Fuad.
Both Grant and Fuad were charged with being in possession of bomb-making materials, including electric switches, small batteries and bottles of chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and ammonium nitrate).
The Monitoring Group learnt that during Grant’s interrogation by the Kenyan security services on December 25, 2011, he admitted to having been in Somalia and claimed he was a member of Al-Qaida and not Al-Shabaab.
Citing information from law enforcement sources, corroborated by the testimony of Al Hijra fighters, the Monitoring Group reported that Grant and others were probably in the advanced stages of an attack in December 2011.
“During his interrogation he alluded to the fact that Al-Shabaab was at the time planning attacks in Kenya against specific targets, including the United Nations Office in Nairobi, the Kenyan Parliament and other security installations,” the report states.
Meanwhile, upon arrival in Kenya, Thabit was hosted by Ruta in Majengo, Nairobi.
“When I came back [from Somalia] I went to that brother [Ruta] in Majengo. He is the only one who knew I was around [from Somalia] and he never let me down,” Thabit would later tell an associate, whom he was persuading to consider working with Ruta on Al-Shabaab plots.
It wouldn’t be long before Thabit made his presence felt.
Thabit was among the terrorists who staged the March 2012 grenade attack at the Machakos Country Bus terminus in which seven people were killed and at least 69 others injured.
Four grenades were thrown from a passing car, then internal security minister George Saitoti said of the March 10, 2012 terrorist attack that officials described as the deadliest in Nairobi since the 1998 US embassy bombings.
"This is an attack by people who think they can puncture the resolve of Kenyan people to fight against terror," then vice-president Kalonzo told reporters outside Kenyatta National Hospital, where the injured were being treated.
The Monitoring Group gleaned the confession about Thabit’s involvement from a January 18, 2013 telephone conversation between Ruta and a key Al Hijra female courier, “R”.
Ruta had met “R” from 11am to 7pm at the Hotel La Kairo in Mwanza, Tanzania, to discuss the logistics of moving the Al Hijra cell to a more secure safe house in the coastal town of Tanga.
According to “R”’s account of her discussion with Ruta, the latter described his secret role in supporting Al-Shabaab in Kenya since his departure from Somalia.
Ruta cited the Machakos Country Bus terminus attack, which he claimed was carried out by himself, Thabit and others.
In Ruta’s attempt to convince “R” of his involvement in the bus stage attack, he described how Thabit had accidently dropped his passport at the scene of the attack and was unsure if the security services were aware of this vital clue.
Thabit was arrested on May 15, 2012 for his involvement in the Bella Vista grenade attack in Mombasa in which he and two others killed a security guard. But even in prison, Thabit continued with his terror campaign.
One of the instances was when the security services eavesdropped on his attempt, while still at Shimo la Tewa prison in Mombasa, to recruit a fighter to work with Ruta.
That was during a regular ‘secure phone’ contact at 21:24pm on December 24, 2012 with the confidential source on the issue of procuring explosives
But one man was, however, desperate to secure the release of Thabit to advance his evil plot against Kenya.
Al Hijra fighters
Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, alias Makaburi, was keen to enhance operations in Mombasa and possibly regionally in Tanzania.
Makaburi, a radical Muslim cleric, had been listed by the UN as a recruiter for the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group. He would be shot dead outside the coastal city of Mombasa on April 1 2014.
“The Monitoring Group understands that the significance of securing Thabit’s release was based on Makaburi’s belief that if Thabit were released from prison, he would be able, albeit consigned to using crutches, to motivate, incite and provide operational guidance to other Al Hijra fighters that had been dispatched from Somalia,” the report states.
Central to this plan was a lawyer (name withheld for legal reasons). A confidential Al Hijra source told the Monitoring Group the lawyer had in the past secured the release of Somalia-based Al Hijra fighters and other members “by fundraising to bribe members of the Kenyan judiciary”.
“As explained to the Monitoring Group, bribes are normally offered to members of the judiciary to reduce and grant bail for detained suspected Al Hijra/Al-Shabaab members,” the report states.
The report cites a confidential audio recording of the lawyer dated February 16, 2013, which is archived with the United Nations, in which the lawyer refers to Thabit “as a good leader that had shown proficiency in gathering intelligence”.
“And in spite of being in Shimo la Tewa prison, (he) had managed to oversee the procurement and transfer of weapons,” the lawyer is quoted saying.
According to the report, on February 2, 2013, the Monitoring Group was briefed on a plan that, if accurate, suggested that a Kenyan High Court judge (name withheld) had agreed to grant Thabit a reduced bail on the condition of a bribe from the lawyer acting on behalf of Al-Hijra and Makaburi.
The Monitoring Group cites information received from a close associate of the lawyer that suggests his relationship with the judge dates back several years.
According to the report, Al Hijra was to raise $1,800 (Sh150,000 at the time). On February 16, 2013, the lawyer returned to meet a female Al Hijra member after learning that Al Hijra had secured $480 (Sh40,000).
“If the cash could be raised to hundred thousand though I believe the fifty thousand on top of that could be their cut and the remaining for their boss [judge]. If motor vehicle logbooks could be found with the value of five hundred thousand each would be better,” the report reads.
“I believe the bond could be brought down to one million and always these Judges will never [accept] one surety. He will have to give two sureties just to be sure that he [Thabit] will attend court.
“But if Babu [Ruta] can meet with Buda [Makaburi] and explain about the possibility of the bond reduction things could be easier because Buda [Makaburi] might be able to convince the Mombasa Muslims and the possibility of the amount to be raised.
“Even the other case concerning Fuad the money has been changing hands and the Judge has softened his stand.”
During the same meeting, the lawyer claimed he would soon provide his own contribution towards the judge’s funds.
“Four days later, (the lawyer) at 3:57pm on 20 February 2013, received an M-Pesa mobile money transfer via Safaricom for 480 USD (40,000 Kenyan Shillings) towards (the judge’s) bribe. By 1 March 2013, Thabit’s funds for facilitating his release were complete when a Mombasa-based Al Hijra member, Kassim Kassim Jembe, gave 1200 USD (100,000 Kenyan Shillings) to a female Al Hijra courier who was instructed to call the lawyer to confirm the funds were available for collection,” states the report, citing an interview with the Al Hijra courier on March 5, 2013.
On March 3, 2013, the lawyer alluded to others working possibly in the judge’s office being involved in the conspiracy to release Thabit.
“You know with the court matters we have to take our chance but so far there’s been no incident that has risen where money has disappeared and the work wasn’t done. Even when I hand it over personally, I remind them how I have people who don’t understand,” the report quotes the lawyer saying.
“You don’t know them, however, they will deal with me. The only time these issues got me into trouble is when some guy promised to get me the people who normally accept 10 percent. We paid money which mind you is non-refundable then the guy disappeared. I was under so much pressure.
“But these things come and pass. The Court is like that. After that case, we had someone inside that place [Court]. I had to call him again to see if they are still psyched up and still in the deal.”
The Monitoring Group concludes that at the time of writing the report, Thabit was still in prison.
“However, on 21 April 2013, the Monitoring Group received information following a meeting between an Al Hijra member and (the lawyer) that strongly suggests that (the judge) may have received a sum of 1800 USD as a bribe to reduce the bail bond for Thabit,” the report states.
Tomorrow:Read about Makaburi’s plot to assassinate a senior Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) officer and how Tanzania security services foiled a plot to destabilise the March 2013 General Election in Kenya