Unmasking the terror suspects in Tana River, Lamu attacks

Juhudi village terror attack victim Lucy Wathumu shows activist Caleb Ngwena her torched house where her husband was killed in Lamu County. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard].

Until 2020, not much was known about the leadership of the terrorist group that has killed several people in Lamu and Tana River since 2014.

But the name of Maalim Ayman, who topped the list of the 35 most wanted terrorists released by Interior Cabinet Secretary Kindiki Kithure this week, first came to the public in 2009.

But it was in 2020 that the U.S. Department of Justice circulated the name of Ayman, aka Geraad aka Nuhu Ibrahim, as the leader of Jaysh Ayman, which means 'the army of Ayman'.

Initially, Kenyan intelligence reports had claimed that members of Jaysh Ayman were followers of the slain fiery jihadist Sheikh Abubakar Shariff aka 'Makaburi' who relocated from Mombasa to Lamu.

These reports claimed Makaburi’s followers from Majengo, Kisauni, Kwale, and Malindi relocated to Lamu to establish Jaysh Ayman in 2014 after State security agents intensified their clampdown on jihadists. 

It was suspected that local and foreign jihadists who were dispersed from Musa Mosque in Mombasa’s Majengo area on February 4, 2014, relocated to Lamu to wage war against the State.

Since mid-2014, several villagers, security officers and politicians have been butchered in Mpeketoni, Panda Nguo, Hindi, Salama Widho, and Witu in attacks linked to Jaysh Ayman, an affiliate of Al Shabaab.

One of the brazen terrorist attacks in Lamu and Tana River took place in June and July 2014 where at least 85 people were killed. In 2017, the group also claimed responsibility for beheading men in the area. 

Although the State believes the group’s motive was to establish a caliphate in Muslim-dominated areas of Lamu, Tana River, and Northern Kenya, other analysts claim the group was out to sow a tribal conflict between natives and the settlers.

A fortnight ago, Lamu Woman Representative Muthoni Marubu gave a horrifying account in Parliament on how the terrorists had made most women in Lamu county widows in what she described as “ethnic cleansing.”

Ms Marubu linked the killings in Lamu to the land-related conflicts between the so-called natives and settlers from the Agikuyu community settled in the village where the killings took place.

In a past interview, Malindi Catholic Bishop Wilybard Lagho also said the terrorists appear to have established an unholy alliance with some people to settle scores against the settlers.

But in 2020, the U.S. marked Ayman as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and issued a $10 million (Sh1.5 billion) reward for information that could lead to his arrest.

This is after the group, on January 5, 2020, attacked U.S. personnel at Manda Bay Airfield, killing two U.S. contractor pilots and a U.S. army specialist acting as an air traffic controller. A third U.S. contractor and two other U.S. service members were injured in the attack.

“Maalim Ayman was responsible for preparing the January 2020 attack,” stated the U.S. Department of Justice.

Another suspect, Ramadhan Kioko aka Abu Nuseiba aka Pinji, also emerged in 2012. Detectives believe that before Kioko joined Al-Shabaab, he was a notorious pickpocket in the streets of Nairobi.

Intelligence sources said yesterday that Kioko and his 10-year-old son joined Al-Shabaab in Somalia in 2012.

"The boy is now 24 years old,” said a detective privy to the investigation.

“Kioko is married to Hawa, who is also in Somalia; making them a complete family of Al-Shabaab militants, a unique and rare situation in terrorism circles,” stated a statement from the Ministry of Interior released in 2012.

Prominent commander

It is believed that Kioko is from Nairobi’s Majengo area and he is a close associate of Ahmed Iman who was also one of the terrorists who attacked Manda's U.S military base in Lamu.

The U.S. Department of Justice also offered a reward of up to Sh449 million ($3 million) for information on Ahmed Iman Ali, saying he was a prominent commander of Al-Shabaab.

Iman is believed by the U.S. and Kenyan intelligence units to have directed the January 2016 attacks on Kenyan soldiers in El Adde, Somalia, that left more than 140 soldiers dead.

“He is also responsible for Al-Shabaab propaganda targeting the Kenyan government and civilians, such as a July 2017 video in which he threatened Muslims serving in Kenya’s security forces,” states the U.S Department of Justice on its website.

It further revealed that he also served as an Al-Shabaab recruiter, targeting poor youth in Nairobi, and has raised funds at mosques to support Al-Shabaab activities.

The third suspect, Abdullahi Banati, was also first mentioned in the intelligence briefs in 2012 as being in the group of terrorists behind the deadliest attacks in North Eastern and Nairobi.

Kenya’s intelligence unit led the group of terrorists that planted the IEDs which killed 11 police officers last month in Garissa County.

Banati's name has featured in the Dusit D2 attack, the 2015 Garissa University massacre, and the Baure KDF camp in Lamu County invasion in June 2015 where 11 terrorists were killed by the Kenyan military.

But the other terrorist, Andreas Martin Muller, whose name was released yesterday is believed in the intelligence circle to have died in 2016.

The Jabha East Africa, an Islamic State-loyal group comprised of Al-Shabaab defectors in East Africa, said the German jihadist died in 2016. It praised Muller as a key figure who recruited many to Al-Shabaab.

Abdiweli Yassin Isse 2009 was based in the US and became wanted on August 4, 2008, for conspiring to support a terrorist organisation in Somalia and conspiring to kill people.

In 2009, he was charged in the U.S. for conspiring to kill, kidnap, maim, and injure persons. The U.S. Court documents claim Isse raised money to travel to Somalia to wage "jihad" against Ethiopians.

The documents indicate that Isse is a Somali who was last seen in October 2009 at a US-Mexico border crossing. In the U.S. he was residing in Minneapolis and worked at a money wiring service.

Ibrahim Magag aka Mohamed Ali, 38, was last seen in London on the Boxing Day of 2013. He was under the radar of the UK terrorism unit until December 2013 when he was suspected to have travelled to Somalia.

Bashir Mursal Mohamed is said to be among the people that Kenya deported to Somalia in 2007. Multiple sources indicate that Mohamed is a close associate of Maalik Alim Jones.

Jones pleaded guilty in the U.S. court to conspiring to provide material support to Al-Shabaab, by travelling abroad to join and fight on behalf of the foreign terrorist organisation for four years.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Dana J. Boente said Jones travelled to Somalia in 2017 to be trained by Al-Shabaab in the use of an AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenades and took up arms as a terrorist fighter.

It is not clear when he left US jail but it is documented that in or about July 2011, Jones left Baltimore, Maryland, in the US with the intent to join Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

He is said to have travelled to New York City, from where he flew via commercial aircraft to Kenya, with stopovers in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.

“After arriving in Kenya, Jones travelled by land to Somalia, which is a common travel route for foreign fighters travelling to Somalia to join Al-Shabaab,” states a communique by the U.S AG office of New York.

It says that Jones received three months of military training at an Al-Shabaab training camp on how to operate an AK-47 assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades.

“Upon completion of this training, Jones was assigned to Al-Shabaab’s specialised fighting force, Jaysh Ayman, and participated in combat against soldiers of the Kenyan government...” it reads.

Others on the list are Abu Said who is said to be a doctor by profession, Mohamed Mwanjama Salim aka Adoo Abu Ansari from Kwale, Hassane, Tijana, Fahad, Jamalo, Sheikh Nganglangam who is said to be the communication director in Jaysh Ayaman, Ethiopian Janagala Huteiba and Abu Khatal.