Kamiti Prison

Inmates and correctional officers at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in this picture taken on September 30, 2019. 

| Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Kamiti escape: Prison break or inside job? The hard questions

The layers of protection at Kamiti maximum security prison and inconsistencies following the reported jail break by three terrorism convicts has raised questions even as Kenya increased surveillance after suicide bombings rocked Kampala, Uganda yesterday.

Conflicting accounts about the time of the escape and how the convicts serving long prison sentences managed to escape from the country’s most secure prison on Monday have baffled many.

The incident, which happened three days after President Kenyatta, following a meeting of the National Security Council, ordered security agencies to step up vigilance across the country, prompting the recall of officers away from duty, has put the spotlight squarely on authorities.

Events leading up to Musharaf Abdalla Akhulunga aka Zarkawi aka Alex aka Shukri (34), Mohamed Ali Abikar (22) and Joseph Juma Odhiambo aka Yusuf (30) going missing from a prison that is meant to have iron-clad security remain worryingly vague.

At the same time, the Nation has uncovered major inconsistencies, including conflicting occurrence times in official reports and how the escapees left the facility.

It has also emerged that the trio once shared a cell with another convicted terrorist, Egilva Bwire, who was released on October 28 after serving a 10-year sentence before he was seized by gunmen.

On the same day Bwire was abducted in Nairobi, his lawyer during his trial, Professor Hassan Nandwa, also went missing after he had reported his client’s ordeal at the city’s Central Police Station.

Prof Nandwa was found on November 8, more than a week later, dumped in Mwingi, about 200km from Nairobi. Mr Bwire is still missing.

A fourth convict, who was in the same cell with the escapees, stayed behind.

Called into question

A public notice communicating the jail break reported the time of the incident as November 15 “at around 0100 hours” while an internal security report on daily occurrences seen by the Nation states the trio escaped from cell number six in Condemn A Block “at around 1000 hrs.”

The initial public report that the three had escaped “by removing part of the wall to their cell block” has also been called to question after a source familiar with the investigations told the Nation that, a hole the size of a building brick “that cannot fit a human being” is the only opening inside the cell.

The prison also has a double perimeter wall about three metres high. There are seven watchtowers that are manned round-the-clock.

The space between the two perimeter walls is patrolled by officers on foot while outside the wall are additional warders patrolling on horses and with sniffer dogs.

Apart from the officers at the watchtowers, there are two officers at any given time on the roof above the main entrance to the prison.

The facility also has closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance. However, reports indicate that the CCTV cameras that cover the alleged escape route were found to have malfunctioned on Monday morning when the trio were discovered missing.

Kamiti Medium Security Prison, which is also highly guarded, is adjacent to the maximum security facility.

In a prison, before the change of shift, there must be a headcount of all the prisoners. In the morning, it is usually done around 6.30am and by 7am. The report should be forwarded to the officer in charge or the deputy officer in charge.

They will then forward this to the headquarters before it’s sent to the Principal Secretary of the Correctional Services department and shared with other security organs.

If they were reported missing at 10am, does it mean they escaped in broad daylight and breached all these security protocols?

Could it be then that the convicts simply walked out? In which case, for them not to raise suspicions, they would probably be posing as warders and in the officers’ uniforms.

Being a maximum security prison, Kamiti has more than 100 officers in each shift. With new officers, such as those employed in 2019, it’s possible not to recognise all officers on the shift at the gate.

Or they were spirited out by agents who would have the necessary clearance or who would not be subjected to security checks.

Contraband has often been seized inside prisons and most of the time, the culprits are prison warders. In past mop-ups, officers have seized laptops, internet modems, SIM card, and mobile phones, tools that inmates use to defraud unsuspecting Kenyans from inside the prisons.

Getting an extra uniform inside the prison is among the easiest things to sneak into the facility. Warders on the night shift sometimes wear two pairs of uniforms as they report to work to keep warm.

Once the convicts are outside the secure facility, they can leave the prison compound from the many available exits. The prison compound, where staff reside, is accessible from different directions, one side leading to an informal settlement while the other leads to Kamiti farm, which is over 450 acres of tree plantations.

Speaking after visiting the cell on Monday night, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said preliminary findings did not support earlier claims about how the three convicts had escaped.

“We have gone to the place where the escape allegedly happened, and we have formed certain opinions. We don’t want to discuss that because we don’t want to interfere with the work that the DCI (Directorate of Criminal Investigations)  is doing,” Dr Matiang’i said.

According to an internal report, four officers had been deployed to guard the block at the time. Yesterday, seven prison warders were arrested following a visit to the prison by Dr Matiangi, Inspector-General of Police Hilary Mutyambai and DCI boss George Kinoti.

They were arraigned within the facility and the magistrate ordered they be detained as investigations are concluded into allegations that they aided the escape of the dangerous prisoners. The authorities have placed a Sh20 million bounty on each of the fugitives.

All prison staff on leave have since been recalled.

“We’re all mobilised and have sent messages across the country and across all exit and possible movement points in the country. We’re going to conduct a massive manhunt for those three; they’re dangerous criminals and we have to get them. We’re going to get them,” Dr Matiang’i added.

Meanwhile, Kenya security forces are on high alert following twin suicide bombings that rocked Kampala yesterday morning.

The blasts that occurred at 10:03am and 10:06am killed three and injured 33 others.

The Ugandan Police Force said in a statement that the first attack happened near the checkpoint to the Central Police Station where a suicide bomber blew himself up.

The second blast occurred at Raja Chambers along Parliament Avenue. Two suicide bombers were captured on camera on motorcycles as they detonated the explosives.

In Nairobi last evening, Thika road was barricaded near Quiver Lounge by police and National Youth Service officers who were checking every car.

The public has been urged to stay alert and report suspicious activities to the nearest police station or use the toll-free lines 999/112.

“The National Police Service (NPS) assures the public of their security and safety following terror-related incidents in our neighbouring country earlier today. Our sympathies to victims and families who were affected by such an atrocious act,” NPS posted on Twitter.

The Ugandan authorities have condemned the two attacks, which they linked to radicalised groups allied to the Islamic State (IS).

Noting that the explosives used in all the attacks were made from common household items, Uganda police spokesperson Fred Enanga asked the public to exercise extra vigilance and voluntarily report suspicious activities.

“It shows the groups still desire to carry out lethal attacks on soft targets using suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” he said.

A fourth suicide bomber was arrested and an IED recovered from him, while a second device was seized at his home in Nansana village.

The attacks happened barely three weeks after another explosion killed a waitress at a restaurant in the city.

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