Arrests, convictions as anti-terror agencies hit security milestones

Victor Odede Bwire in tHe dock at a Milimani court. [George Njunge,  Standard]

As the country starts a new year, security men and women have been burning the midnight oil to ensure that when the skies go dark in the night in Kenya, no one will be harmed.

Even as countries such as the US and China gave security advisories, and the government being relatively new, security remained tight with only few attacks from terrorist groups including Al Shabaab.

Nevertheless, the verdict against Victor Odede Bwire marks a major milestone for the security agencies in taming terrorism in the country this year.

The father of the two was part of a terror group that was planning to bring down the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC).

Odede’s arrest and prosecution followed intelligence-led investigations, and four years of laying out evidence that finally nailed him.

The prosecution told a Milimani court that Odede was arrested after intelligence uncovered the plot to attack KICC.

According to prosecution, a forensic analysis of phones seized from the suspect showed he had sent information on KICC’s security arrangement to contacts in Somalia.

Odede was accused that on January 23, 2019 jointly with others and together with Mohamed Yare Abdalla, who was outside Kenya, conspired to commit a terrorist act at KICC.

He faced a separate charge of collecting information to aid a terror act.

The court heard that KICC security officials knew Odede as an employee of AL-Tc Africa which used to deal with exhibition stands.

At the same time, it emerged that he briefly worked for another company called Protect Exhibitors in 2017 which was doing the same work of erecting exhibition stalls.

They knew him as a humble gentleman at the time and never received any complaints against him. All this time, he was a spy.

Sleuths burst the entire plot from Facebook accounts “Kim Sam”, “Abdul Hakim”, “Kezia Soze”, “Mohamed Yare Abdala” and “Soze Kezia.”

According to police sergeant Joseph Mwiti, Odede was instructed by Yare via Facebook to ride a motorcycle from Nairobi to Moyale with the aim of collecting information on the number of roadblocks and the kind of searches that police were conducting. He was also to ride a bus and do the same exercise and then report to his handlers.

The intel was to be used by terrorists who would be tasked to carry out different attacks in the country, mostly targeting Nairobi’s Central Business District.

Two people were arrested by police in Merti, Isiolo County when a vehicle they were in was later found to have been strapped with an explosive. This vehicle was to be driven into KICC for the attack.

After the attack was foiled, investigators believe that the intel collected was later used by the five attackers who hit the Dusit d2 complex on January 15, 2019.

In his judgement, Ochoi said that the prosecution had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.

He said there was no doubt that the information collected by Odede and turned over would have been crucial in the execution of the attack.

Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) specialists, Safaricom and Airtel helped the prosecution put a case against the man.

Odede, a boda boda rider, would later blankly face the courtroom as his lawyer Chacha Mwita and senior prosecution counsel Harrison Kiarie battled for leniency.

Chacha said that Odede was remorseful while Kiarie urged the court to consider that the iconic KICC building can hold up to 10,000 persons at a go, and key government buildings including Judiciary, Parliament, Vigilance House, and the Office of the President among others surround it.

Then came the hour of reckoning. Each word Ochoi said turned the blank face to a crestfallen one. When the magistrate was done, disappointment and regret were all written on Odede’s face and in bold.

The verdict by Milimani Magistrate Bernard Ochoi that Odede should cool his heels behind bars for 20 years seemed to overwhelm him. The long hand of the law had finally caught up with him and he regretted it, his lawyer said.

As we enter 2024, terrorism remains a threat to the country, giving National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the anti-terror police a headache. Some of the key areas cited in 2023 as hotspots for terror activities include North Eastern Kenya, Lamu region, and Boni Forest.

An X (formerly Twitter) page associated with the government security agencies - Counter Terrorism Policing KE - indicated that a multi-agency team had managed to crack the terror group’s operations, including busting a food supply network that supplied food to Al Shabaab terrorists in Boni.

In the capital city, Mohamed Kulow alias Jeelani was arrested in Eastleigh with Al Shabaab propaganda and radicalisation materials.

He was also said to be running online madrassa lessons from a improvised studio which he linked to the terror group from his house.

Security agencies had a headache of dealing with Daesh, a terror group linked to Islamic State (IS) in Somalia and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) alias Islamic State Central Africa Province (Iscap) operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Islamic State in Mozambique (IS – Mozambique).

Some of the arrests in relations to Daesh included Ayub Omar Bwanaadi, Mohamed Omar Bwanaadi and Kassim Ahmed.

In the meantime, in April 2023, Ugandan national Job Abdulrahman Baguma, was arrested and subsequently deported in May 2023 for his role of recruitment and logistic courier for ADF network linked to Frank Castle.