Mystery of Mpeketoni attacks deepens as Governor Issa Timamy awaits day in court

Governor Isa Timamy at the Mombasa court on Thursday. He is being charged in connection to recent killings Lamu County. [PHOTO: MAARUFU MOHAMED/STANDARD]
LAMU COUNTY: Lamu Governor Issa Timamy made history this week by becoming the first ever county chief to be charged with the spate of terrorist attacks that rocked his region.

He becomes the highest political leader charged in connection with the attacks that have claimed 65 lives and destroyed property. Two weeks ago, attackers believed to be al-Shabaab laid a 10-hour night siege on the little towns of Mpeketoni and Kibaoni and killed 60 people.

This week, attackers believed to be from the same gang killed five more people in Witu, just 30 kilometres from Mpeketoni town. Somalia's insurgent group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack but the Government has blamed it on local politics in Lamu. So far 10 people, including Timamy, have been charged over the attacks. Others are Mbaruk Hamad, Alex Mwanginga, Yusuf Ali, Joseph Mwangi and John Mwangi.

The rest are Lucas Bososi Ombui, Cecily Njeri Ndugo, Idris Dada Farah and Dyna Salim, the driver of one of the matatus used by the attackers. He said the attackers hijacked his car. The Government has laid charges of murder, forcible transfer of people and terrorism against Timamy, a former chairman of the National Museums of Kenya.

His arrest caught many people by surprise. When President Kenyatta blamed the local political networks for the attack, many thought he was referring to the Opposition CORD. In the last General Election, Timamy was elected on a United Democratic Forum (UDF), which is affiliated to the Jubilee alliance.

However, a closer examination of the Lamu County politics might offer insights that informed the decisions that led to Timamy's arrest. Witu and Mpeketoni, where the attacks took place, were strongholds of his rival in the last election, Fahim Twaha, of The National Alliance party.

Secondly, when he was interviewed by The Standard on Sunday at his offices in Lamu Island last week, Timamy said his stand against irregular allocation of land in Lamu had rubbed some powerful people the wrong way. Lamu has assumed strategic economic importance in the country lately. A prospecting firm recently announced that it had struck oil off its Coast.

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Secondly, one of the biggest development projects ever to be undertaken by the Kenya government, the multi-billion dollar Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor is to be based there. As a result, there has been much interest by businessmen to acquire land in the region for speculative purposes. The price of land here has shot up incredibly.

Timamy has time and again protested what he termed massive land grab in his county being orchestrated by a cabal of elites from the region and beyond. "That is the source of his problems," said Johnson Ndolokani, one of his political advisers.

"Long before the attacks happened, his political opponents used his stand on the illegal allocation of land here to say that he wants some people to be evicted. That is far from the truth," he said.

Whatever the case, when told about the suspicions about his involvement in the attacks, Timamy told this reporter last week: "I have heard the same rumours and my conscience is clear: I could never do such a thing, and I will gladly clear my name in court if it ever comes to that."

In the end it came to that and he will be expected to take a plea on the charges after 14 days which the prosecution has requested in order to complete its investigations.

Usually, the identity of victims of violence offers clues as to the reason for the attacks and perhaps the identities of the attackers. But not quite so in the Lamu attacks. Survivors of the attacks said  the militants were asking them which religion they belonged to and not their tribes.

But a section of politicians maintained that the attacks were targeted at a specific community. However, the identity of the victims indicate that this was just an attack on ordinary Kenyans. Twenty three out of 60 of the victims of the first attacks were not Kikuyu, who are the majority in Mpeketoni and Kibaoni.

Nine of the non-Kikuyu were Giriama men who were butchered by the gunmen in broad daylight in remote villages as they fled to the forest on foot. Two of the five victims of the attack in Witu were Giriama, one was a Luhya and two were Kikuyu. "These people targeted everyone irrespective of their tribes," said Ndolokani.

Meanwhile, mystery surrounds the government's claim that it killed five of the attackers last week in Bothai Forest in an operation led by Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo. The government said it recovered three AK 47 rifles from the men. However the bodies of these suspects were never displayed to the public.

In fact, they were never brought back for DNA analysis, a standard practice in such situations, and were left to rot in the forest. When asked the reason for this, a senior police officer from Lamu County told this reporter: "Why should we bring them over? They killed our people and they deserve to die like animals. In any case, bringing them back would have aroused a lot of emotions from the public."

He said the five suspects had been shot by police from a military helicopter used in the operation. He said they only harvested the fingerprints of the suspects but did not take their photographs. However the three AK 47 rifles that were recovered from the suspects and which this reporter saw looked  old and rusted, far from the sophisticated weapons that the residents of Mpeketoni and Kibaoni said the attackers used.

"The guns were used heavily during the operation to the extent that they appear aged," said the officer. "As for the other weapons, we shall recover them as the operation continues."

It is worth noting the area where the attackers fled to on foot is a forested area favoured by nomadic pastoralists who come from the neighbouring counties of Garissa, Wajir and Tana River.

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Mpeketoni attacks Issa Timamy al-Shabaab