Toothbrush clue sealed fate of Mombasa terrorist

Thabit Jamaldin Yahya

Thabit Jamaldin Yahya listens to Judge Martin Muya's verdict on December 1, 2015 at a Mombasa court. 

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

By all circumstances, Thabit Jamaldin Yahya could have been an innocent passer-by and a victim of a 2012 terrorist attack in Mombasa were it not for his toothbrush and grenade pellets.

These two items, together with other personal effects, implicated the man in the Bella Vista Club terror attack that left a woman dead and several others injured.

The toothbrush was inside a bag that had been left in Pegassus Bus and was recovered in Nairobi.

Inside the bag were also wedding invitations and the bus tickets in his name for the several trips he had made between Nairobi and Mombasa.

There was also another bag that he had left in the custody of his friend that contained a laptop and other personal effects.

Yahya had booked seat number 15 in the Pegassus bus and was to travel to Nairobi at 10:30pm on the night of May 15, 2012.

That night, he neither showed up for the journey nor collected his laptop and the second bag.

Less than an hour before the departure time, Yahya and his friend walked to the club but declined to be frisked by security personnel.

Popular club

They were blocked from entering the once popular club and thus walked away. That time, Yahya wore blue jeans and a black jacket.

Mary Cheptirim (now deceased) was one of the guards at the club while a Mr Boniface and Gregory were among those checking patrons as they entered the club.

Ten minutes later, Yahya and his friend returned to the club and tried to force themselves in but were blocked again.

They then hurled a grenade at the club’s entrance and what followed were three successive blasts, which threw the guards and the attackers to the ground.

At the Coast General Hospital, the guard saw Yahya, the man they had seen hurling the grenade, next to their bed, also writhing in pain as a result of the explosion.

He would then be arrested after several witnesses identified him.

Mr Yahya was then charged with the murder of Ms Cheptirim, who died as a result of the grenade explosion.

At the scene, detectives recovered several items including four grenade levers, two safety pins and fragments of pellets. Also recovered around the scene were a pistol, magazine and ammunition.

Detectives also collected Yahya’s personal effects, including his clothes and swabs from the grenade safety pins for DNA analysis, in the Federal Bureau Investigations (FBI) laboratory in the US.

The toothbrush recovered in Nairobi and blood samples collected from the crime scene formed part of the exhibits that had been flown to the US for DNA matching.

These items would then help the police link Yahya to the attack.

Results of the analysis showed that Yahya’s DNA was found on the toothbrush, firearm, magazine and bullets recovered at the scene of the grenade attack.

Hawking different items

The detectives discovered that Yahya had planned to stage the attack then travel to Nairobi on the same night but things did not work according to his plan.

From the court record, Yahya admitted to being near the club at the time of the blast but explained that he was hawking different items.

He denied any involvement in the grenade detonations, claiming that he was an innocent passer-by when the explosive went off.

“I was hawking wares around the famous Mombasa tusks at about 9pm when I heard a blast. I was going home at the time. I woke up a few days later in hospital,” he defended himself in court.

However, detectives established that he had planned the attack but had become a victim of his own actions.

The High Court in 2016 sentenced him to death after finding that he was directly linked to the attack that led to the death of Ms Cheptirim.

He challenged the decision at the Court of Appeal. On March 10, the appellate court upheld the sentence.

“We find no reason to disturb that sentence. The result of this appeal is that it fails in its entirety and is accordingly dismissed,” said Justices Stephen Kairu, Pauline Nyamweya and Jessie Lesiit.

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