A student pilot who was killed during an operation to the rescue Public Works Permanent Secretary Mariam el Maawy who had been abducted by militants was buried in an emotional ceremony at Mokowe Friday.
The student — Arif Kassim — was in the vehicle that was carrying El Maawy when the armed militants attacked the group at Milihoi in Lamu on Thursday afternoon.
Reports indicate that two officers were also killed when the security team led by Kenya Defense Forces engaged the attackers in Boni Forest.
Kassim died when the vehicle overturned and exploded during the shootout between militants and the special forces.
Friday, a driver and a conductor of a lorry which was also hijacked at the same spot claimed that the vehicle in which the PS was traveling was driven into the forest by a female fighter.
The conductor, Cosmas Charo, said they were forced out of their lorry three kilometres outside Milihoi Trading Centre as they drove towards Mpeketoni.
“We stumbled upon other vehicles that had been hijacked by the armed militants at that spot,” he said.
Charo and the driver identified as Hassan were were then forced into another vehicle that was driven into the forest where the Toyota Prado with the PS and other occupants including Arif was.
The militants detained him (Charo) after establishing he is a Christian and allowed Hassan to proceed when he said he had recently converted to Islam.
Hassan and Charo said they were both driven to the same spot where the PS, Arif and other captives were being held. He said he was then transferred to the Prado as Hassan was told to drive the lorry away from the forest while the Prado was driven deeper into the forest.
He says the Prado rolled and he scrambled out and ran, leaving other captives inside. He says he ran through the bushes to the road where he was rescued.
“When I left, the PS and the boy (Arif) were all alive. I thank God I am alive,” Charo told journalists in Lamu town Friday.
Hassan recalled that the militants “sought to know my religion and if I could recite the Shahada (muslim proclamation of faith) but I could not and I told them it was because I had converted to Islam three weeks ago and they laughed.
“They told me that Charo would remain with them and asked if I had any medicine in my pocket but I told them I had only a thousand shillings,” he said. “They then told me to go because they were not interested in money.”
He said the captors spoke in Kiswahili and were dressed in military fatigues and red bandanas.
Meanwhile, family members said 24-year-old Kassim was given a lift by the PS who was heading to Mokowe to visit families who have been displaced due to the ongoing security operation.
“We were able to identify him although he was badly burnt. He is my nephew and was still a student pilot at stage I,” said Rishad Amana, the victim’s uncle.
The mourners conducted funeral prayers at a mosque in Mokowe then carried the body to a cemetery for burial at about 3.30pm Friday, according to Amana.
Amana, who is vying for the Lamu West parliamentary seat described Arif as a polite and humble man who was very passionate about his aspiration to become a pilot.
Kassim was the son of Kassim Apolo, a former Senior Chief who is currently the Witu County Administrator.
“He studied at Mpeketoni Secondary in Lamu till 2015. He was just given a lift by the PS who was heading to Mokowe,” said the emotional Amana. Elite security forces rescued El Maawy, a native Bajuni from Lamu County, after about 45 minutes.
On Thursday evening a Kenya Defense Force helicopter airlifted the injured PS from Mpeketoni where she received first aid before she was later airlifted to Nairobi for specialised treatment.
Coast Region Police Coordinator Larry Kieng said the police are yet to apprehend any of the militants who disappeared into the Boni forest.
“We do not have any update. The operation is going on but we have not managed to arrest anyone,” he said, adding that the security officers will not relent until they flush out the militants from the area.
Security officers said infantries have not managed to advance because of the condition of the road while the operation from the air was also hampered by the thick forest.