|Residents assess the damage done to Pandanguo Primary School in Lamu County when unknown assailants attacked the area on Friday. PHOTOS: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD].|
Coast, Kenya: The Standard on Sunday can now authoritatively reveal the name of an Al Shabaab commander who led the fighters that carried out deadly attacks in Lamu County.
Intelligence reports say that Idris Kamau, a Kenyan of Kikuyu ethnicity, was the mastermind of the spate of terror attacks in Lamu that have so far claimed 87 lives. This information is contained in a report prepared by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and sent to police stations in the Coast region on June 4.
The alert also indicated that a former Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldier, Abu Jamal, is in charge of a cell of the Al Shabaab fighters in Mombasa said to be planning more attacks in the region.
The report said Kamau and his group of fighters are currently hiding in the depths of the vast Boni Forest, where they are believed to have set up an operations camp.
The alert said that the attackers were planning to carry out more raids in Mokowe and Kipini in Lamu County, Ijara, Garsen and Malindi in Kilifi County on unspecified dates. The brief report, which has been seen by The Standard on Sunday, further warned that the planned attack in Malindi is to be a massive one involving about 150 fighters divided into three groups. It further warned that the two field commanders of the terror group are planning to recruit more Muslim youth in Mombasa to undergo training for their jihadist causes at an unestablished location in or near the port city.
We could not immediately establish further details about the two Al Shabaab commanders from security forces who became uncooperative when we asked for further clarification. Although the officers were not given pictures of the two suspects, the names constitute a major development in unravelling the mystery of the attackers who have struck fear in the hearts of Lamu residents.
Our team on the ground established that the intelligence on the commanders and planned attacks was first shared with selected officers on June 27, but on July 4 it was circulated to all police stations at the Coast.
For nearly one month now, the attackers have melted into the forest to evade capture, much to the chagrin of security officials, one of whom likened them to “ghosts”.
“How is it possible that they can move so quickly and without us noticing? How is it possible that we have not killed one of their men despite us shooting at them? I know this might sound absurd coming from me, but, I think, they could be using some magic potion,” he said.
He could easily have been speaking of Government frustrations and anxiety of and an entire nation curious to know the face and name of an enemy who has tormented the country relentlessly in such a short time. An officer involved in the investigations told this writer that they believe the militants number between 100 and 300 and are operating out of Boni Forest near the border with Somalia. It is believed that the two commanders trained in Al Shabaab camps in Somalia before returning to Kenya to set up the cell that is operating at the coastal region. Since they began their campaign of bloodshed and destruction a month ago with an audacious 11-hour long night attack in Mpeketoni, the security forces have been unable to capture or kill any of them.
Another potential breakthrough in the investigations came on Thursday morning when seven people, among them two women, were arrested by the public in Hindi. The seven drew the suspicion of a local wine tapper when they asked him for directions to Mombasa. Seeing they were all foreigners, the wine tapper raised alarm and called the police.
When questioned, their story was not convincing enough. They claimed that they had come for a funeral and had lost directions on their way back. But it was 10 O’clock in the morning – a little too early for a funeral to have been held and concluded. Furthermore, they could not remember the particular bereaved family.
When members of the public searched their bags, they found masks, gloves, binding cords and a map of Mpeketoni area with certain areas marked “X”. The police took the suspects to a military camp at Mokowe where they are still being interrogated. They all claimed to be residents of Watamu in Kilifi County. A police officer, who requested not to be named so as to speak freely, said one of the women named Kadzo, has implicated several prominent landowners in Lamu as key financiers of the attacks.
Before they were attacked last week, residents of Hindi had been scratching their heads to figure out the identities of two young men of Somali origin who recently rented a room there.
“They had wives, but they were not friendly as such and we concluded that maybe it was because they were new. However, we noticed that they were cooking a lot of food, far much more for the four of them,” said Peter Chege, a resident of Hindi.
The two had two powerful motorbikes with big carriers which they used to transport the food to unknown destinations, according to the residents.