Two Kenyan commanders in Somalia’s Al-Shabaab and a British jihadist Thomas Evans, also known as Abdul Hakim – who joined the terrorists after converting to Islam at the age of 19 – are among 11 militants killed by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF).
Evans was allowed to travel abroad by British authorities who ignored warnings from his mother after she expressed her concern at his behaviour.
Among the Kenyan Al-Shabaab commanders killed is Luqman Osman Issa alias Shirwa from Mombasa, who led the attacks on Mpeketoni in Lamu County a year ago in which 65 people were massacred, KDF spokesman Colonel David Obonyo said yesterday.
The other Kenyan commander killed is Said Abdalla Hemed alias Said Hamza, also from Mombasa.
Luqman was an ethnic Gunya tribesman with roots in the Lamu archipelago and many of his siblings were implicated in violent jihad in Kenya and overseas.
His family in Mombasa’s Bondeni has established jihadist credentials, according to Kenya’s intelligence, which told The Standard that his younger brother Ibrahim Osman Issa was killed in Afghanistan in 2001 fighting for the Taliban.
Another brother Issa Osman Issa co-planned the 2002 terrorist bombing of an Israel hotel in Kikambala, Kilifi.
Luqman’s mother lives in Mombasa. The late Ibrahim left Mombasa for Afghanistan in 1999 and is believed to have inspired Luqman’s conversion to violent extremism. According to a government report seen by The Standard, Luqman’s other brother Issa Osman Issa “was involved in the Kikambala bombing in 2002.”
“This is a big victory for us and also a major setback for Al-Shabaab because now there is no mainstream commander in Lamu,” Obonyo told Reuters, adding Shirwa’s body was in a morgue in Mpeketoni.
Obonyo said another man apparently of Caucasian or Arab origin was among the dead, while the others killed appeared to be from the region.
Britain, berated by the Jubilee government for issuing travel warnings in the recent past to its citizens against visiting Kenya’s coast, said it could not confirm whether Evans had been killed.
“We are aware of reports of the death of a British national in Kenya,” said a British government spokesman. “We cannot confirm these at this time.”
Two Kenyan soldiers died in the gunfight during the 5.45am raid on Buare, 39km north of Bargoni in Lamu East.
By midday yesterday, KDF soldiers were hitting forest positions where heavily armed militants are believed to be hiding, but were advancing cautiously in case Al-Shabaab militiamen had ringed roads and bushes with mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
British authorities were informed about the terrorist links of Evans alias Abdul Hakim, 25, by his mother Sally Evans.
On February 3, this year, three years after the slain terrorist reportedly joined Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from his brother Micheal Evans and mother who had wanted him jailed.
The committee proceedings were later the subject of debate in the House of Commons on February 9 when then Secretary of State for the Home Department Theresa May responded to a question by an MP.
Leicester East lawmaker Keith Vaz had recalled Sally, “the mother of a convert, Thomas Evans, who is now fighting for Al-Shabaab in Somalia, said she had received no support from the authorities in dealing with his fateful decision.”
Vaz suggested support to families such as the Evans’ that had come forward was necessary “as it could also provide us with valuable information to prevent other young men from being radicalised in the way that Thomas Evans has been radicalised.”
Yesterday, Kenyan authorities suggested the Saturday evening raid by militants on Mangai village where gunmen took over a mosque, looted a dispensary and burnt down a school under construction, was a precursor to Sunday’s attack on the military facility.
The medicine was looted in anticipation of Sunday’s raid, according to military analysts who also suspect about 50 militants participated in the attack on the KDF post after slipping into the Bargoni area from Boni forest and Somalia about five days earlier.
The British jihadist Evans took the Muslim name Abdul Hakim after converting to radical Islam.
And The Standard learnt yesterday that the militants began their assault on the KDF camp on Sunday with a barrage of rocket and machine gun fire and attempted to overrun the KDF defences but were repulsed by machine gun and sniper fire. The attack collapsed after Luqman, Thomas and Hemed, who led the raid on the camp, were killed.
The militants, apparently, attacked in the morning in the mistaken belief that the KDF sentries would have dropped their guard after night duty, according to a military analyst who cannot be named.
The source further believes Al-Shabaab planned a symbolic attack to coincide with the anniversary of the Mpeketoni massacre last year.
“We established that one of those killed is a British national called Thomas Evans who changed his name to Abdul Hakim at the age of 19 [when he became a Muslim],” said Chrispus Mutali, the coordinating county commander of the Administration Police who said in Mpeketoni that DNA tests had positively identified three of the slain militants, including Thomas.
Luqman, according to local and police accounts, co-ordinated the Mpeketoni massacre last year.
Mutali described Luqman as “a key commander [of Al-Shabaab] in charge of Coast region....who has been involved in many attacks including Mpeketoni” and said that Luqman led Sunday’s assault on the KDF camp with Thomas and Hemed as his deputies.
Reports indicate that Hemed lived in Mombasa’s Old Town and worshiped at Mlango wa Papa mosque in the area before vanishing to Somalia after last year’s carnage in Mpeketoni.
Other reports indicate Hemed operated a tour company in Mombasa a few years ago, but his slide towards extremism has not been explained.
Sources within the military and police intelligence indicate that the slain Briton was also involved in the Mpeketoni raid and the July 2014 attack in Hindi where he beheaded several villagers. He appears in Al-Shabaab’s propaganda video released in March this year depicting the raid on Mpeketoni.
A Caucasian man of about six feet and two inches tall is seen in a black balaclava, unsheathing and sharpening a sword to behead a terrified resident during the Mpeketoni raid. In a separate episode in the video, the alleged Thomas is seen walking in single file with other militants in dense bush around Mpeketoni and Pandanguo.
Besides sharpening the sword, the suspected Thomas who, apparently entered Somalia late 2013, is seen swatting away a fly in the swamps.
Thomas is said to have tried several times to enter Somalia through Kenya, but eventually managed to slip into Syria through Turkey in 2013. It is not clear how he entered Somalia.
Other details on Luqman indicate that he most likely fled Mombasa for Somalia in 2008 with another militant identified as Luqman Mohamed Mumin, and was involved in the attacks on Gamba Police Station in Tana River last year. He has operated from Boni forest leading an Al-Shabaab cell called Jaysh al Ayman which was linked to Al-Qaeda terror group with a man identified by police as Tufaul Ahmed.
Police have not stated his age, but say Luqman was married with one child, a daughter, and hailed from a polygamous family. His brother is said to have co-planned the Kikambala raid.
Meanwhile, forensic experts were yesterday trying to identify the remaining eight bodies at the Mpeketoni District Hospital mortuary. Three had parts of their skulls blown off, but Thomas’s and Luqman’s bodies remained largely intact.
According to morticians, the most visible injury on British jihadist was a bullet hole in his hip, making it likely that he died of exhaustion and heavy bleeding, just like Luqman who was struck in the lower abdomen.
Other bodies had shattered skulls, most likely inflicted by high calibre fire. One had old wounds suggesting he was a veteran of past battles for Al-Shabaab. Thousands of Mpeketoni residents flocked the mortuary to view the bodies.