Why Kenyans keep police in dark on impending terror attacks

According to locals, reporting to authorities endangers their lives as some officers leak information to Al Shabaab or fail to take action. [Photo: Courtesy]
Jamaa Nuh Abdile, the suspected mastermind of the Al Shabaab attack on two police camps in Mandera last month in which five officers were killed, had been spotted in the area two days before the raid.

Police identified Jamaa as the leader of the more than 100 Al Shabaab terrorists who attacked Fino Police Station and Administration Police camp at dawn on March 3 and fresh reports indicate authorities had been informed about his presence in the area.  

An elder told The Standard Jamaa was well known to them because he disappeared nearly a year ago and there were reports he had joined the terror group in Somalia.

Jamaa went missing in July last year around the same time his father disappeared and had vowed to return to avenge his father’s disappearance, according to the elder.

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He believed his father had been a victim of enforced disappearance by the State.

“This is a man who was well known to us. Immediately after his father was kidnapped, he sneaked to Somalia to join the Al Shabaab militants and promised to avenge his father's disappearance,” claimed the elder.

“After a year he resurfaced. And two days after he came back, the attack happened. Never mind we had already informed the security apparatus about his presence but they did not act,” said the man who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation.

Local residents sometimes have information on imminent terror attacks but choose to hide the information from security agencies and the targets of the raids - the non-locals living among them.

It is because of such secrecy that two consecutive attacks succeeded in Wajir and Mandera counties within days of each other this year, claiming eight lives.

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Today marks the third anniversary of the killing of at 147 people, mostly students, in an assault by Al Shabaab terrorists on Garissa University.

Multiple interviews with security officers and the residents have exposed the mistrust that exists between the two sides, which works in favour of the militants. 

Residents accuse the police of doing little to stop the attacks despite being provided with information. The police, on the other hand, blame the residents for failing to inform them about the militants’ presence, despite having prior knowledge.

Qarsa Primary

The conspiracy of silence is interpreted by the victims as abetting the attacks.

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However, the locals claim they fear informing the security agencies because in some cases words leaks and they are threatened.  

Following the killing of three teachers at Qarsa Primary School in Wajir on February 16, an elder accused a local administrator of leaking information.

He claimed the locals informed the administrator about the presence of suspected terrorists.

“We informed him about the presence of these people. But instead of passing the same information to the relevant authorities, he leaked the information to them. What followed were threats to our lives,” the man said. The Standard could not independently verify the claims.

The authorities have said locals are usually aware of impending attacks and questioned why they do not come forward to help the Government pre-empt the raids to save lives.

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Following the killing of the three teachers, Regional Coordinator Mohamud Swaleh said those behind the attacks were local youths working with their Al Shabaab counterparts from neighbouring Somalia.  

Mr Saleh said the Al Shabaab attacks in the area were being carried out and led by Kenyan youths known to the community.

The ringleader and two of his accomplices, he said, were local youths.

The three were named as Maalim Yussuf Abdullahi (commander) from Boji, Garas. His wife lives at Kotulo in Wajir with his three children. His accomplices were identified as Daud Ahmed Mohamed, also from Kotulo, and his cousin, Abdirashid Ibrahim Osman.

The Government faulted the public for not divulging terror-related information. But the people claimed they feared for their security when they share the information with the Government and that officials in some instances ignore them.  

A Somali elder in Mandera said he once tipped security agencies about people he suspected to be Al Shabaab members, but the authorities did nothing. 

To protect whistle-blowers, Wajir County Commissioner Loyford Kabara explained, the Government had started Mulika Uhalifu, an SMS number 22068, for the public to submit intelligence anonymously.

“The security apparatus will authenticate and investigate and keep confidential the sources of the information and their location to save them from victimisation and witch-hunt,” said Kabara.

Bearing fruit

Salah said the initiative was already bearing results, but that more sensitisation was needed. The initiative led to the capture of three suspects linked to the killing of the teachers at Qarsa in Wajir East constituency.

Many people across northeastern Kenya have been victims of extra-judicial killings. On July 4 last year, a group of herders in Bambo, Mandera County, were reported to have found the bodies of four men and a woman buried in a shallow grave.

One of the dead was a relative of the then Mandera East MP, Abdiaziz Farah. 

The then Mandera County Commissioner Fredrick Shisia condemned the act and promised a probe into the killings. 

Local leaders claimed those killed were victims of extra-judicial executions by the security forces.

Mandera has suffered several terrorist attacks and has also been a hub for anti-terrorism operations.

In December 8, 2015, several bodies were exhumed from graves. 

Among the bodies was that of Isnina Sheikh, 29, who had gone missing.

The Government said Isnina was a cook for the terrorists in Somalia and that the attackers would eat in her house before executing terror acts in Mandera town.

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