Security agencies on the spot as 32 terror suspects vanish without trace

Mombasa Demo

Human rights activists protest in Mombasa on August 23 where they condemned the abduction and forced disappearances of people.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

 In the weeks leading to the kidnapping of Mombasa tycoon Abdulhakim Salim Sagar last month, a Toyota Probox was trailing him every time he went to the mosque or left after prayers, according to his brother Faris Sagar.

Salim was battling a terror case in court after being charged for being in possession of terrorism materials in 2018. As directed by Shanzu resident magistrate Yusuf Shikanda, he had religiously been reporting to the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) offices every month.

“We don’t know why they arrested him in that manner,” his brother told the Nation after Salim was accosted by four men and bundled into a waiting black Toyota Hilux on August 19.

In many ways, Salim, who is yet to be found alive or dead, was a targeted man. He is first cousins with Hanniya Said Sagar, the widow of slain Islamic preacher Aboud Rogo. In 2018, Hanniya was set free after the High Court overturned a 10-year sentence handed to her for aiding terrorists to attack a police station in 2016.

What is more frightening is that the two co-accused in Salim’s case also disappeared without a trace. Alfan Ali Juma was picked from his Utange home in the presence of his family by unknown men in July last year while Abdisatar Islam disappeared in January.

Interestingly, Coast regional police boss Manasse Musyoka initially said they had arrested Salim and were to present him in court only for him to turn around after his family sued the State demanding for their kin to be produced.

Missing person

“We are treating this particular incident as a case of a missing person and security officers are actually helping the family locate their kin,” said Mr Manasse in an affidavit filed in court on Monday.

“The owner of the vehicle registration number KBQ 035C, which was allegedly used to abduct Mr Salim, is not known. The vehicle has not been found to date,” said Mr Musyoka.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for Mr Salim’s disappearance, a similarity between his kidnapping and that of Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdiwahab Abdisamad who disappeared last week on Wednesday is leaving little doubt on who could have done it.

The kidnapping of these two men, discovery of 11 bodies in River Tana in Garrissa last week and the failure by the state to produce in court two terror suspects who were dramatically arrested in Mombasa last month is raising questions on whether there are new hard tactics being employed in the fight against terrorism.

In the midst of the noise, however, are clandestine squads believed to be financed and aided by foreign countries that are partners in the war on terror and are hunting down, detaining arbitrarily or executing suspects.

While no one acknowledges their existence, these squads, according to sources, are tasked with gathering intelligence on specific terror suspects with the blessings of top bosses. They use unmarked hired cars and swap between private or unregistered number plates making it difficult for anyone to attribute their operations to any security agency.

Although no fingers can be pointed yet on who kidnapped Sheikh Abdisamad and Mr Salim, both of them were seized by armed men riding in similar vehicle models. Additionally, the registration details of the vehicles used to abduct them have vanished from all government records, what is raising alarm.

Powerful person

Salim was kidnapped by four men riding in a black Toyota Hilux KBQ 035C. Sheikh Abdisamad was also kidnapped by four men riding in a white Toyota Hilux KCW 341Y. A search by the Nation on the identity of both cars at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) showed that the vehicles do not exist in government records.

The vehicles thus could either have never been registered at their point of entry into Kenya, which is very unlikely, or a powerful person may have ordered that the numbers be erased to frustrate attempts to find out who kidnapped the two men.

What is clear from a review of news items by the Nation and statistics by various human rights groups is that the number of enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings have surged dramatically.

According to Haki Africa, the number of terror suspects who have disappeared in 2021 as at yesterday stood at 32. This number is almost double the 18 last year. Those killed extra judicially is even higher,  says the institution.

A post-mortem conducted yesterday on some of the 11 bodies discovered last week in River Tana showed that they had been badly tortured by their killers (see separate story). Their deaths too took place on diverse dates as the decomposition of the bodies was not even.

“From our assessment of the bodies, some of them had ropes tied around their hands,” says Haki Africa’s executive director Hussein Khalid.

As for the two men who were dramatically arrested by the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) and Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) on August 14 at the Likoni ferry crossing in front of media cameras, it is only the state that can explain where they are.

Security agencies said the two men whose identities have never been revealed had been driven to an interrogation site in Nairobi before being presented in court.

Also known as black sites in the world of espionage, such interrogation centres are clandestine jails used to interrogate and hold suspects considered to be enemies of the state. Their locations are highly classified and no government will readily acknowledge their presence.

In 2006, the then US President George Bush acknowledged the existence of secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prisons which he said had for years been used to hold 14 key terrorist suspects for the purpose of extracting information from them.

“A person arrested on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organisation shall not be held for more than 24 four hours unless the suspect is produced before a court and it orders that the suspect be remanded,” says Section 32 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2012.


Article 49 of the constitution, however, says that, “An arrested person has the right to be released on bond or bail on reasonable conditions pending a charge or trial unless there are compelling reasons not to be released.”

Among the reasons specified in Section 33 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act that could deny a terror suspect bail is if the magistrate is convinced that the accused will interfere with witnesses, if he is already serving a custodial sentence or if he had been arrested before for the same offence.

A review of terrorism cases in the corridors of justice, however, shows that the state has in almost all instances found it difficult to convince magistrates to hold terror suspects in remand unless they were at the time of arrest found with dangerous materials like bombs or grenades.

Furthermore, the state’s record in getting guilty convictions fast enough for terror suspects has not been convincing.

Even then, there is evidence that some suspects who are released on bail as their cases continue have participated in subsequent terror attacks or escaped to Somalia.

Mahir Khalid Riziki, the man who blew himself outside Dusit D2 Hotel in 2019 had in October 2014 suspected to have been part of an assassination cell funded by the Al-Shabaab involved in the killing of a police officer at the Royal Court Hotel.

‘Hibo Ahmed.’

While out on bail, he fled to Tanzania before ending up in Somalia where he called his family and informed them that he was undergoing training by Al-Shabaab. On January 11, 2019, he crossed into Kenya and activated a Kenyan phone registered in the name of ‘Hibo Ahmed.’

“At 6.21pm on that day, Riziki placed his first call to the man who became the leader of the Dusit D2 attack Ali Salim Gichunge. He then arrived at the safe house in Muchatha, Kiambu, later in the evening,” says documents filed by the Kenyan government at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) outlining how Kenya’s last large-scale attack to date was planned.

On the flip side, quite a number of terror suspects who are out on bail have ended up disappearing or getting executed in cold blood by unknown people. Those whose families are lucky find their bodies dumped in forests or national parks like Tsavo. Lately, however, the new trend is that once you disappear, it is very difficult for your body to be found.

Such difficult facts have time and again generated debate as to whether terror suspects should be granted bail as a constitutional right at the expense of their own safety or the security of Kenyans or whether their right to bail should be limited. But human rights activists say the law should be followed.

“To be honest we have exhausted all possible local remedies. We have protested, shouted and clearly there is no remedy,” says Mr Khalid.

“What we are considering is to take this matter to the international court,” he says.

Such tactics, according to Mr Khalid, make it difficult for lawyers to attribute responsibility to specific police officers and their units. As such, justice has remained elusive for the families of those killed or whose disappearances have been enforced.