How kidnap of British couple in Lamu triggered KDF invasion of Somalia

Judith Tebbutt who was kidnapped, alongside her husband, from Lamu in 2011. 

Kenya: British tourists David Tebbutt, 58, a publishing executive, and his wife Judith were set for a dream holiday at the Kenyan coast. The couple had saved for a luxurious beachfront lodge all to themselves worth Sh83,500 a night. But this was not to be.

The Tebbutt’s arrived at the exclusive Kiwayu Safari Village (KSV) in Lamu on Saturday September 10, 2011 at about 4pm. A steward had prepared their room and placed a mosquito net around it. The roller blind at the front had been pulled down.

All doors and windows were shut. The Tebbutt’s were stepping out of the plane after a close to one hour flight from the Masai Mara Game Reserve. They were on the second leg of their adventure across Kenya. According to events pieced together by New Scotland Yard detective Neil Hibberd of the counter terrorism command weeks later, the pair met the manager of the resort, George Moorhead, on arrival.

They were taken on a tour of their room and facility. The resort has a lodge with a dining area and bar, and 18 palm leaf cottages known as bandas. The couple, the only guests that night, had been booked into Banda Zero, ironically the furthest cottage at the lodge. All the cottages have an open plan and are situated on the beachfront. They took a late lunch and later returned to the bar area at around 7.15pm, according to the statement dated June 19, 2012. After dinner, they had another chat with Mr Moorhead, and later went to the bar. At about 9.30pm they left the bar area and retired to Banda Zero for the night.

The Head of Security at the lodge, Hussein Jirimo, finished his shift at 11.30pm and left. He arrived at his home in Muita village at midnight. It was common practice for the guards at KSV to break for coffee at midnight. And it is believed this night was not an exception. There was another custom at the lodge; switching off of the main electrical generator at 11.30pm but electricity was still being supplied to the bandas.

Late into the night Judith was startled to wake up and astonishingly found the lights in their room on. Her nightmare was about to unfold because she found, to her utter shock, that David was no longer besides her. She looked around the room and spotted David standing up at the right hand bottom corner of the bed. He appeared to be grappling with someone taller than him.

In the split of a second, two gun-wielding men clawed their way into the mosquito net and grabbed Judith. They pulled her and took her through the front door, leaving her husband in the banda. As the waves slapped the beach in the dead of night, Judith was forcefully dragged to the beach and hoisted into a waiting boat. The two men got into the boat, and according to the witness statement, a third suspect was in the boat.

Barefoot men

Shortly thereafter, they were joined by two other men - all barefoot. They rode off lazily in the boat, marking the beginning of a six-month horrific ordeal for Judith in the hands of her abductors. Detective Hibberd reveals in the confidential statement seen by The Standard on Sunday that his team from UK’s Metropolitan Police were deployed to support the local police investigation in Kenya at the request of the Kenyan Government three days later.

Hibberd says he arrived at the crime scene on Tuesday September 13, 2011 with six detective officers, a fingerprint expert and a photographer. His team conducted an initial assessment and examination at the scene.Two days later, the team was joined by a crime scene manager, a ballistic scientist and a scientist trained in blood pattern analysis.

To come up with the leads, the Counter Terrorism Command interviewed several witnesses, among them a local watchman employed by the lodge, Kenyan police officers posted to the lodge, controller of security known as Kilo-Oscar, head of security, management, and a local farmer. This report is what was largely relied on in the prosecution of the main suspect, Mr Ali Babitu Kololo.

Immediately after the attack, a man identified as Aboud Salali Boke heard a gunshot in the vicinity of Banda Zero and reported this to the Security Controller Aboudi Kassim between 11.30pm and midnight. Mr Kassim informed the Head of Security, Hussein Jirimo who was at his Muita home. In the statement, Mr Jirimo says he received the call at around 12.30am, when he was informed a gunshot had been heard in the area of Banda Zero.

Jirimo then made his way to the control room at the holiday resort. Meanwhile, he asked his security controller, Kassim to wake up Moorhead as he headed to Banda Zero. On the night of the attack Moorhead was in Banda 8.

“As he approached he noticed the side window mats to the left side of the banda were open. This allowed anyone to walk into the banda as one can step over a low wall made of matting. The front door matting had been pulled down and the banda was in complete darkness,” the five-page statement signed by detective Hibberd adds.

On arrival, the head of security saw blood on the mosquito netting surrounding the bed. He then saw David Tebbutt lying dead at the left hand side of the bed. At this time Kassim had woken up Moorhead and handed to him a radio. Jirimo informed Moorhead that David had been found dead inside Banda Zero. Judith was missing.

A man hunt for suspects was lodged immediately. Abdi Godhana, a watchman at a post known as ‘Juliet’ was on duty that night with his partner, Mbera Kato. Their post is on the Kiunga to Mvundeni Road. Mr Godhana heard a radio message around midnight from ‘Kilo Oscar’ control asking for officers to go to the camp as a gunshot had been heard. He later realised that David had been killed and his wife kidnapped.

The two guards identified Kololo, the following morning as a “likely suspect” early the next day. “As the man (Ali Babitu Kololo) passed both watchmen confronted him and recognised him immediately as a ‘Boni’ male. He appeared nervous and was unable to look them in the eye,” the statement reads.

Kololo was arrested and handed over to the General Service Unit based at an airstrip near the holiday camp. He wore a pair of black Tanga shoes. In July 2013, after a two-year trial he was found guilty and sentenced to death after he was found guilty by a High Court in Mombasa for the 2011 kidnapping of Judith, and the murder of her husband David.

Kololo, now on death row, had been employed at Kiwayu Safari as a grass cutter and ‘sand taker’ between July and September 2010. During this time he lived in the compound with the guards. The report says Kololo had attempted to obtain work as a guard but the security manager declined to employ him.

Upon his arrest and interview Kololo told police that on the day before the kidnap, he went with a man named Hassan Ali to the Boni forest. He said that by 7am he realised he was no longer in Kenya and had reached Ras Kamboni. He claimed he had been approached by five armed men who told him to get into a boat.

At 5pm later that day they entered the deep sea. Kololo said they started their journey towards Mkokoni at 7pm. They then docked at Kongowale near the hotel and that is when he managed to escape. He was to hear a gunshot later. But what convicted Kololo were the Tanga shoes he wore when he was arrested. Tanga shoes are predominantly worn by Somalis and are not allowed at KSV.

To have a set of Tanga footprints was unusual and significant. None of the staff at KSV wear Tanga shoes. All the suspects entering the boat with Judith were barefooted.

Kololo knew the route into the resort over the dunes, the location of the security posts and the location of the Banda’s, particularly George’s Banda No 7. A few weeks later, Kenya deployed its troops to Somalia to fight the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab terror group, a decision that has set it up for numerous retaliatory attacks on Kenyan soil.