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Fazul's waterloo: How DNA from shaver gave the fugitive away

Suddenly, one occupant opened fire from an AK-47 rifle. The bullets missed the target. Caught off guard, Capt Hassan and his squad ducked. However, they fought back viciously to stop the occupants from escaping.

In a breathtaking gun battle, the soldiers shot dead two men inside the car. A third opened the door and vanished into the darkness. To date, his identity remains unknown.

As the officers dragged the bullet-riddled bodies out of the vehicle and dumped them on the roadside, it never occurred to them that one of the dead men was a big name in the global terrorism network.

They were not even aware the man had a $5 million (Sh700 million at the current exchange rate) price tag on his head.

That man they had just shot dead was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a ruthless terrorist and commander of Al-Qaeda network in East Africa and one of the FBI's most wanted terror fugitives.

His driver was Musa Hussein alias Musa Sambayo. Musa funded operations of Al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamist insurgent group, which is a transnational terrorist affiliate of Al-Qaeda.

Anti-terrorism investigators believe Musa acted as the conduit for cash from financiers of terrorism and dispersing it to agents to launch strikes in East Africa.

Omar Aziz Omar, a Somali national who relocated to Britain after acquiring citizenship, was identified as one of the foreign financiers of the East African bloodbath. To date, he remains at large.

Fazul had several times ferried money between different members of terror cells in Africa. At one time, he carried money from Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, who drowned in a ferry accident on Lake Victoria in 1996, while his terror gang was planning the 1998 US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, to several members of the Nairobi cell at various times.

In 1996, Fazul and Wadih el-Hage - Lebanese member of Al-Qaeda - transported $7,000 from Osama bin Laden to a contact in Mombasa. That money was used to fund terrorism in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Kenya's Criminal Investigations Department (CID) - as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), was known before promulgation of 2010 Constitution - and America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), had listed one of the men shot dead in Mogadishu as some of the most wanted international terrorists.

This was after a US district court indicted Fazul over the August 7, 1998, US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The Nairobi incident killed 219 people while 12 were slain in a near-simultaneous attack in Dar es Salaam.

The embassy attacks, executed in coordinated truck bombings, were set to happen at exactly 10.30am, but occurred nearly four minutes apart. The Nairobi bomb exploded at 10:35am.

Police salvage evidence after the August 7, 1998, terror attack. [File, Standard]

After Fazul's wife and children were captured, forensic experts from the Government Chemist were called in to extract DNA samples. It is those samples they used to match with those taken from Fazul's remains in Mogadishu. "The investigators involved us in the hunt for Fazul. We took DNA samples from his wife and his alleged biological children. Profiles were generated and electronically stored in Genemapper Version 1.0 software," he discloses.

On August 2, 2008, Fazul again escaped narrowly from capture from a home in Malindi, just minutes before anti-terrorism police officers crashed through his door.

At the time, he was reported to have sneaked into Kenya from his base in Somalia to receive treatment for a kidney condition.

The ATPU detectives had received intelligence information that Fazul had been spotted in one of the cyber cafes in Malindi.

They proceeded to the cybercafe but did not find him. Instead, they spotted another man fleeing on a bicycle. They gave chase and arrested him near the Star Hospital. The man was known as Ibrahim Manfudh Ashur.

The officers searched Ibrahim and found a flash disc in one of his pockets. His father, Mahfudh Ashur Hemed, was arrested when he showed up at Malindi Police Station later in the day to inquire why his son had been arrested.

After locking up the man and his son, a contingent of 50 police officers proceeded to Hemed's home, where they learnt Fazul was being hosted. But Fazul had escaped minutes earlier using a speedboat through the Indian Ocean.

The police searched the home and found two stolen passports. They also picked up an electric shaver which would prove handy upon the shooting of the men at Sarkuusta checkpoint.

Dr John Mungai says ATPU detectives contacted the Government Chemist and tasked them to extract DNA from an electric shaver and passports seized from Hemed's home. The forensic evidence backed up the ATPU case in court and helped nail Hemed and his son.

"We extracted DNA samples from the shaver and a stolen passport. The DNA profiles generated from the shaver were compared to those we already had from Fazul's children and their mother," he says.

The DNA profiles generated from the shaver and references placed the fugitive in the house in Malindi on August 2, 2008.

After the shoot-out in Somalia, and before the bodies of the two men were whisked away, US agents backed up by Somalia authorities took blood samples for DNA analysis.

First responders at the blast site bravely attempt to rescue survivors. [File, Standard]

He had a command of at least five languages. Highly intelligent and thoroughly trained, there was no doubt that he was one of the most dangerous international terrorists remaining after the fall of Osama bin Laden.

"He had dozens of fake identities and travelled on forged international passports. At one time, he was reported to have done facial surgery to conceal his appearance," the detective recalls.

Even as the head of foreign fighters and volunteers in Al-Shabaab, it appeared not all of his subjects knew his real identity.

Born in the Comoros Islands, off the coast of Mozambique, Fazul also carried a Kenyan passport and was said to have trained with bin Laden in Afghanistan and Sudan. Just like in his real life, Fazul's exact date of birth remained a mystery. His estimated dates of birth were August 25, 1972, February 25, 1974 or December 25, 1974. He was also a computer whiz kid.

Fazul was educated in Saudi Arabia before travelling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s. It's there that he was recruited into bin Laden's terror network.

He travelled to Mogadishu in 1993 to back up terror attacks. He narrowly escaped death in an American air strike in Somalia in 2007.

After the soldiers gunned down Fazul and Musa, they recovered from their vehicle; $40,000, medicine, telephones, a modified AK-47 rifle, laptops and a fake South African passport in the name of Daniel Robinson.

Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was on a visit to Tanzania as news of Fazul's killing broke, described it as a "significant blow to Al-Qaeda, its extremist allies, and its operations in East Africa".

She said: "It is a just end for a terrorist who brought so much death and pain to so many innocents in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and elsewhere - Tanzanians, Kenyans, Somalis and our own embassy personnel."

Fazul was killed just six weeks after bin Laden was felled by bullets fired by US Special Forces raid in Pakistan. Weeks after bin Laden was killed, Ilyas Kashmiri, another senior terrorist with ties to Al-Qaeda, was eliminated in a US-led operation.

[Stephen Muiruri is a former editor (crime and security) at Nation Media Group and a former editorial consultant of The DCI magazine]