Widow knew of husband’s terror links in Somalia but kept mum

Suhaila Mwalim Bakari, widow of suicide bomber at Dusit terror attack.

The widow of one of the 14 Riverside attackers was on Friday night arrested by police in her house in Bakarani, Mombasa.

Suhaila Mwalim Bakari, was taken into police custody following the identification of her husband, Mahir Khalid Riziki, as the suicide bomber in the Tuesday attack.

It is not clear whether Suhaila became radicalised, but investigators say she was a  confidant of her husband, lending her ears to his trials and tribulations while in Somalia everytime he called her, demanding details about her current life while he remained in hiding.

For three years, the petite, light skinned woman knew her husband who was in Somalia, wanted by police over terror related activities at the Coast and with a Sh2 million bounty on his head.

And when her husband was suspected to have gone to Mombasa towards the end of last year as part of a cell tasked with orchestrating an attack at the Coast, she kept the information to herself, not bothering to inform authorities of his movements and least bothered about the bloody attacks he is said to have masterminded.

Residents say dozens of officers swarmed the impoverished Bakarini slums in Kisauni and knocked on Suhaila’s door and picked her up. She left behind her three-year-old baby and petrified neighbours. It was unclear whether her current husband was at home.

Reports indicate Suhaila ended her marriage to Mahir immediately he vanished from Majengo. She is a small scale trader in Bakarini whose academic record is not known and rival accounts suggest she was born in Kwale or Kisauni. After the suicide bomber fled Majengo she left her matrimonial home to live with her parents in Bakarani, Kisauni where she, allegedly, entered a new relationship.

Reports indicate she kept a low profile and went to great lengths to erase his ties with Mahir’s family but now investigators wish to find out whether any contacts with Mahir continued in private or whether the deceased offered any material support to her from hiding.

“We have not arrested these people. We just want them to tell us what they know about Mahir who left Mombasa five years ago,” a senior police officer told Sunday Standard last evening to downplay claims the two were under arrest.

Mahir’s father was also picked from the house the terrorist was born and raised in Majengo.

Investigators say Suhaila was in communication with the bomber, who has been on Mombasa’s Most Wanted List since November 2014. Despite the fact that Mahir had a Sh2 million bounty on his head, he still managed to escape the detection of police, before surfacing for the attack. He, as well as seven others were believed to be hiding in Kwale alongside Mohamed Soshi (now deceased).

Controversial mosque

His family background is not known but some accounts suggest Mahir could be a blood relative of Al Qaida mastermind Fazul Abdalla Muhamed who was killed on June 8, 2011 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The suicide bombers path towards extremism remains unclear but he is believed to have worshipped at Musa Mosque since childhood where he came under the influence of slain radical islamist Sheikh Aboud Rogo who was killed on August 27 2012.

Mahir would later be associated with another controversial mosque Mlango wa Papa in downtown Mombasa. Yet other reports indicate Mahir was recruited into Al Shabaab by radical preacher Rashid Tumbo Kufungwa at Musa Mosque in 2014.

Like most young radicals that came under the influence of Sheikh Rogo, Mahir went underground following the April 1, 2014 assassination of radical islamist Sheikh Abubakar Shariff alias Makaburi.

Makaburi’s followers from Majengo, Kisauni, Kwale and Malindi would later emerge under the banner of Jaysh Ayman, a Kenyan franchise of Al Shabaab members active in Lamu and responsible for the June 2014 terrorist massacre in Mpeketoni.

In October 2014, Mahir was involved in the killing of a police officer at Royal Court Hotel. The team was led by Ismael Mohamed Shosi alias Ismael Mmanga, a former resident of Bondeni, Mombasa County. He fled to Tanzania a month after the killing of the police officer after security agencies posted his photo on Mombasa billboards as a wanted person.

In early 2015, he confirmed to his family members in Mombasa that he had relocated to Somalia where he was undergoing training by Al-Shabaab. While there he specialised in small arms, disguise and was also alleged to have assassinated members defecting from Al Shabaab. 

Investigators say he came back on their radar in November and December last year after he started getting in touch with his widow, Suhalia, through phone calls from Somalia before going to the coastal city for an aborted mission.

On January 13, he sneaked into Kenya through Elwak in Mandera County, then to Takaba, and boarded a Moyale Raha bus in Marsabit town to Nairobi. When he arrived in the city, he immediately proceeded to Muchatha to link with the attack cell leader, Ali Salim Gichunge alias Faruk, to receive instructions on his role for the planned attack.

On the day of the attack, Mahir reportedly arrived at the scene earlier but was constantly communicating with Gichunge, taking instructions and updating him on his status.

Scamper for safety

“The attack strategy was for him to detonate his suicide vest to kill people at the Secret Garden restaurant and signal incoming attackers. Then, as people scamper for safety towards the main entrance of Dusit complex, the other four attackers were supposed to embark on a killing spree targeting the fleeing crowd,” a source said.

There have also been revelations that at the time of the attack, the terrorist was in failing health and might have been in charge of a cell that emerged in Mombasa last November to plot the carnage.

Soshi, one of Mahir’s acquaintances, was linked to several murders of security, intelligence agents and reformed terror suspects was accused of masterminding the daylight killing of a police officer manning the Gulf Bank in Mombasa’s Bondeni area in 2015. He was later killed in what police described as a shootout several months later and a G3 rifle allegedly, snatched in the Gulf Bank attack recovered from his house.

Shosi was killed by security agencies in September 27, 2016 at his hideout in Mwandoni after he resisted arrest and engaged them in a fire exchange.

The Mahir, 25, was also later linked to the murder of a police officer on Mombasa’s Haile Selassie Street besides the shooting and wounding of former Mombasa DCIO Ndumba Thangarani in 2015.

Mid May and in the wake of the April 2, 2015 massacre at Garissa University College police published Mahir’s name among eight most wanted, linking him to Sheikh Mohamed Khalid Mohamed Ali who had been arrested in Lamu. This cleric had been linked to the college massacre and the police alleged the eight were linked to him in kind.