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FBI detectives find DNA of Mombasa nightclub attack suspect in toothbrush

By - | May 21st 2013
Terror suspect Jamaldin Thabit at the Shimo la Tewa Prison in Mombasa. [Photo: Kevin Odit/Standard]

By Willis Oketch

Mombasa, Kenya: A toothbrush found in a bag containing ammunition has the DNA of the sole suspect in the terrorist attack on a nightclub in Mombasa, an FBI detective told a court Monday.

The luggage containing AK47 magazines was discovered on a Nairobi-bound bus in Mombasa, hours after a grenade attack on a nightclub a year ago. 

A detective representing the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) told the court it had found the DNA of Jamaldin Thabit, who is on trial for the attacks on Bella Vista Club on May 15 last year, on the deadly luggage.

Thabit has denied knowledge of the bag recovered on May 16 — a day after gunmen detonated grenades outside the nightclub killing one person and injuring scores others.

Authorities blamed Al Shabaab terrorists for the attack on the establishment popular among American and British tourists in retaliation for Kenya’s military operation in Somalia to crush the militants.

But the Mombasa High Court was told that a forensic examination by the US agency has concluded that the Thabit’s DNA was “dominant” in a “toothbrush swab” to a very high degree of accuracy.

Thabit is facing a murder charge for allegedly hurling a hand grenade into the crowded Bella Vista Club. The suspect, who has been in police custody for a year, has denied the charge.

On Friday he appeared robust and in good health with new clothes when he turned up for the hearing. 

The FBI detective, Ms Rhoda Craig, who was the second witness, however said DNA was not traced on two hand grenade safety pins recovered from the scene of the blasts.  Craig said an objective and conclusive results could not be reached because the pins had been handled by many people and were therefore contaminated.

Thabit was hurt in the blast in which a female guard Mary Chepterim was killed in a hail of gunfire and explosions that targeted the popular club.

Initially he was rushed from the scene to the Coast General Hospital in Mombasa bleeding as a victim. But he was immediately arrested after anti-terror police suspected him of being the mastermind of the blast at Bella Vista.

Detectives found two bus tickets, which indicated Thabit arrived in Mombasa on the day of the blast, and had planned to leave by the same vehicle at night on the same day on seat number 14.

Because he was hurt he could not travel and his luggage, a bag that he had apparently placed on the bus earlier, remained in the bus. When detectives intercepted the bus near Harambee Plaza in Nairobi, they seized the luggage to discover it was laden with several rounds of ammunitions and AK 47 magazines, body lotions, clothes and a toothbrush.

The prosecution had been trying to link the suspect to the bag and its contents until the report by an FBI examiner who has testified at Thabit’s trial that DNA extracted from the toothbrush matched the suspects DNA from his blood.

On Friday, a police investigator told Justice Martin Muya “a toothbrush is among the items which were recovered from Thabit’s bag which he had left in the bus before he executed his mission.”

He said the items in the bag were handed to FBI officers in Nairobi for forensic and DNA examination.

While testifying, the FBI’s forensic examiner said several items were already contaminated by the time FBI received because many people had handled them.

“Two things were common in the findings. One was a low level of DNA findings and a mixture of DNA. It was only in the toothbrush swab where DNA was dominant [and] where it matched the DNA sample of the suspect,” said Craig.

Injuries from blast

Chief Inspector Raphael Mutua told the court that investigators found Thabit at the hospital with injuries sustained from the scene.

“While gathering evidence at the scene, I was informed that one of the prime suspects believed to have been involved in the hand grenade blast was getting treatment at the hospital.

Mutua told the court that upon arriving at the hospital, detectives were suspicious about Thabit and chained him to his bed.

“We took blood samples from his clothes which was later compared with sample of blood found at the scene where the safety pin was recovered” said Mutua.

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