Guantanamo Bay

The guard tower of "Camp Six" detention facility of the Joint Detention Group at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Inset: Ms Mwajuma Rajab Abdalla and her brother Mohamed Abdul-Malik Bajabu, the only Kenyan held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

| Courtesy | AFP

Family of Kenyan held in Guantanamo Bay speaks

Every three months, Ms Mwajuma Rajab Abdalla held Skype conversations with her brother, Mohamed Abdul-Malik Bajabu, the only Kenyan held at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The father of three who was detained in 2007 wrote letters to his eldest sister, urging her to take care of herself, conversations that gave her hope.

These constant assurances for 15 years made the family of the detainee optimistic that he would be released.

The family of eight children held on to their hope that someday their brother, held since 2007 after he was linked to terrorism in Mombasa, would be freed.

When they saw media reports that he and Guled Hassan Duran from Somalia would be released by US authorities the family from Likoni was overjoyed.

Ms Abdalla, his eldest sister, said Bajabu’s wife is a nurse in her native Somalia where she stays with their three children.

She refused to remarry, holding onto their love.

“I know my brother will come to visit me, stay for a while and then be reunited with his family. My brother used to engage in the fish business with his two Tanzanian friends when he was arrested in Kenya,” she said. 

“I have battled high blood pressure ever since my brother was arrested. Today, when I heard the news, I was so overjoyed that my pressure shot up,” Ms Abdalla said.

“But there’s nothing in this world that God cannot do. We have prayed to hope that one day we would hear such information. I wish the authorities could confirm it for me.”

Ms Abdalla said she will spend the night at the Moi (Mombasa) or Jomo Kenyatta airport to welcome her brother.

“When I see him I will faint. Sadly, our parents died when he was in detention, but we are happy. My brother has suffered; it's time for him to come back home to his family,” she added.

She claimed she had been discriminated against, isolated and loathed since his brother was arrested.

“There’s nothing I have not gone through. I was even suspected of being linked to terrorism because of my brother. I brought him up as my son.”

But the family is concerned about their relative’s security once he is released. They said he endured torture in the foreign jail.

Born in 1973, Bajabu was arrested in February 2007 after he was linked to terror attacks, including a 2002 strike on an Israeli hotel in Mombasa that killed more than 10 people and injured scores others.

In March 2007, Kenyan authorities handed him over to the US for onward transmission to the Guantánamo Bay prison. The Pentagon once described him as a “dangerous terror suspect”.

“They linked him to alleged plans to attack a World Cross Country Championships event in Mombasa in 2007. But he is innocent. My brother is a humble, harmless and religious man," Ms Abdalla said.

In an exclusive interview with the Nation at the family's home in Mombasa, she said they will not sue the US over Bajabu’s alleged torture.

On Tuesday, the Periodic Review Board, a US agency that determines whether detainees at the facility were guilty, announced the decisions in filings posted on its website.

The board is made up of senior US officials from the departments of Defence, Homeland Security, Justice, and State; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Office of Director of National Intelligence.

It announced the clearing of Bajabu and Duran, paving the way for their eventual release and transfer to second countries for rehabilitation.

Once a detainee is cleared for release, he cannot leave the prison until the US works out a diplomatic arrangement with another country that would accept them.

Of the 64 detainees cleared for release, 38 were listed for transfer and 26 were recommended for continued indefinite detention.

Thirty-six of the 38 cleared for transfer were released from Guantanamo to their home countries or third countries.

“He said he was never involved in terrorism; he told me to remain peaceful and hopeful that he would be released, but I was never at peace,” she said.

“My life changed when he was ferried to the detention camp. His firstborn is in college, another in Form Three and the last-born, who was three months old when his father was arrested, is 15 years old. His wife will come to Kenya when he is released,” she said.

The father of three wrote letters to his sister, urging her to take care of herself.

On November 17, 2017, he wrote a letter, seen by the Nation, pleading with her sister to also take care of their ailing father.

The four-page letter did not reach Ms Abdhalla until March 2018, five months after their father succumbed to cancer after ailing for several years and undergoing six operations at a Tanzanian hospital.

Ms Abdhalla said their father died on December 22, 2017. He was buried the following day according to Islamic customs.

In the handwritten letter, Bajabu pleads with his eldest sister to be prayerful.

"He knew I would never survive due to my sickness. But when he comes we will converge as a family for special prayers. I urge the government to accept him and give him freedom. He shouldn’t be harassed. If he wasn’t found with any wrongdoing, why should he suffer? I will be his custodian,” Ms Abdhalla said.

She added: “When I talked to him via Skype two months ago he told me not to worry about him.”

He said his brother looks forward to seeing his sisters and brothers and meeting some of the newest members of his family who were born during his time in detention.

“He was among those who engaged in a 92-day hunger strike at the prison. He underwent an operation after becoming very sick. He was tortured beyond human imagination; it is just a miracle he is alive. He used to pass stool with blood,” she said.

She said his brother lived with three chains on him at the prison though two were unlocked.

She said his brother is now conversant with English and Arabic as he speaks broken Swahili.

She said her brother’s business was booming in Somalia so he decided to come back home to Kenya to look for a house and bring back his family.

But he was arrested and taken to Nairobi.

“That was when police officers were hunting down Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (now deceased). He was later flown to the US. He was suspected because he was a member of the Islamic Party of Kenya. I know my brother, he is no terrorist,” she said.

Ms Abdalla said her brother studied at Tudor Primary School up to Standard Eight and later joined madrasa classes in Majengo. He then travelled to Sudan to study Islam.

Bajabu travelled to Somalia and joined the fish trade.

In 2014, a cellphone belonging to his younger brother Salim Khamis Khamsin was seized by police sent from Nairobi to Mombasa to interrogate him.

Mr Khamsin said the officers took his phone and asked for his email address, Twitter handle and passwords.

He said officers from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit questioned him about his life for hours. They also wanted to know how he managed to own a house and a car yet he was jobless.

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