Paul Rotich

Garsen Court Senior Principal Magistrate Paul Rotich narrating his story at the Basket of Hope,in Minjila,Tana River County.

| Stephen Oduor | Nation Media Group

Magistrate recounts how Judiciary workers survived Shabaab attack

Garsen Senior Principal Magistrate Paul Rotich is lucky to be alive.

Last Wednesday is a day he would want to forget but he cannot.

When we caught up with him for an interview, he told us he was grateful that he and other Judiciary staff had survived an Al-Shabaab attack.

Magistrate recounts how Judiciary workers survived terrorist attack

Mr Rotich was with a court clerk identified as Njue, prosecutor Frank Sirima, police constables Moses Bett and Willies Mgendi and driver Abel Birisa when they were ambushed in the Lango La Simba area of Lamu County.

They had just come from a mobile court session in Kipini, Tana River County, when they were attacked.

"We were just talking about how successful the day had been. Ahead of us there was a truck and then emerged an armed group from the bush that tried to flag us down," he narrated.

They thought they were being flagged down by security forces, as they donned similar outfits: military clothes, boots, shades, but with an arafat turban.

They almost stopped when the security officer with them noticed the guns the assailants had were unofficial and asked the driver to accelerate the vehicle.

"When they noticed our driver was accelerating, they threw a grenade that missed the vehicle, then opened fire that hit our wheel and the windscreen. The driver veered off the road," he recounted.

When the vehicle made an abrupt stop, Mr Rotich said they knew they would die.

Some of them had been shot, but they gathered their courage and left the vehicle to run for their lives.

The incident took place not far from a military camp.

"I was in panic mode but I remember the prosecutor pulled me out and asked me to move. I said to myself, if the bullet should find me, then it should find me from behind," he said.

They forgot their injuries and ran towards the bush, each finding a place to hide from the raining bullets fired by their assailants.


The Garsen Law Court vehicle that was sprayed with bullets at Lango la Simba, Lamu County.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Haki Afrika

Meanwhile, the assailants advanced towards the vehicle, chanting slogans.
Shortly after, the military responded to the incident, and the two groups exchanged fire and hurled grenades at each other.

Will live to remember

The assailants abandoned their quest to kill the judiciary team and retreated.

"When the guns went silent, the military officers came to the bush and called us out. We were all waiting for death at that time - we had given up. We ignored the first call until the officer spoke in Swahili and identified himself. That is when we responded," he said.

It was 20 minutes of terror that the team will live to remember.

Mr Rotich said the prosecutor missed a bullet in his head by a whisker. He had a mark on his forehead left by the bullet.

The magistrate noted that he least expected such an experience as that was not the first time he had been in Kipini for mobile court duties.

He is now left with a lot of questions.

Were they set up by the same people he had gone to render services to or were they just unfortunate victims of circumstances?

What he feels bad about most is that the people of Kipini may have to go back to the old days, when they had to travel tens of kilometres to Garsen for their cases.

"We had made a breakthrough in access to justice. What has happened can only be undone with the installation of very tight security along that road (or) my people in Kipini will go back to suffering," Mr Rotich said.

Access to Justice project manager Stephen Otoi described the attack as unfortunate, saying it illustrates the need to have tight security for court officers in Tana River County.

Because not everyone can get to a physical courthouse, he said, the court should “meet them at their point of need” and the Ministry of Interior “should take this matter with a lot of seriousness."

Mr Otoi noted that government officers in Lamu and Tana River counties should be allocated security officers and an escort.

Following the incident, Chief Justice Martha Koome directed the head of the Judiciary Police Unit to review the security arrangements for all judges, judicial officers and staff across the country with a view to enhancing their safety.

CJ Kome said she had instructed the unit to ensure the injured officers were immediately evacuated to Nairobi for specialised treatment.

Additional reporting by Kalume Kazungu


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