Rapid Deployment Unit thwarted five Al-Shabaab attacks in April

Senior Superintendent Mohammed Sheikh Abdi and another security officer in Wajir Town recently. He is the commander of Rapid Deployment Unit based in Wajir Town, formed to fight Al-Shabaab terrorists. [PHOTO: BONIFACE ONGERI/STANDARD]

Wajir, Kenya - On the rainy night of April 9, Senior Superintendent *Ali Hussein (not his real name) received a distress call informing him that suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen were scaling the wall of a residential building in Wajir Town.

The caller said some of the gunmen were ripping off iron-sheet from the roof, in an attempt to gain access into a house, where a group of Christian tenants had locked themselves in.

Ali immediately rallied his Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) team to respond to the distress call.

By the time they arrived, the suspects had got wind of the rescue and fled, leaving behind visibly shaken tenants, crammed in one of the rooms. To ensure their safety, the tenants were evacuated to Wajir Police Station for the night.

As deputy in charge of RDU operations in Wajir town, Ali’s job is closer to that of a battlefield commander.

Following a spate of Al-Shabaab-related attacks in the country, Ali’s unit is among several others now operating in the North Eastern region.

His unit has responded to several similar distress calls. Within April, the unit successfully prevented five Al-Shabaab terror attempts on the citizens of Wajir.

It is involved in arresting suspected Al-Shabaab members, apart from collecting crucial intelligence information to help curb further attacks.

As former commander in the Anti-Shifta Police Unit who spent the 1980s and 1990s fighting bandits, Ali was called to join the RDU in 2004 at the height of inter-tribal clashes in the region.


Ali says he lost several officers under his command during the banditry era, while he has come close to death on several occasions.

Since he hails from the local community, he acts as a link between the community and the security personnel under his watch.

“Good cooperation is very crucial in gathering information. For you to win the trust of the community, you must be very friendly to the people,” he said.

The job of chasing after Al-Shabaab militants, dodging assassins and responding to distress calls does not give them adequate time to sleep.

“We are at war. The moment we fall asleep could be the time the terrorists execute their heinous acts.

“So we have to be battle ready at all times,” he said, adding that RDU’s job is stretched beyond the normal policing.

They also respond to emergency.

Since most people have his phone number and know he is just a call away, some have called him to help ferry sick people and expectant mothers to hospitals.

“It is a duty to respond to medical emergencies. Sometimes the local ambulance drivers develop cold feet, especially at night so we have to fill the gap and help in some instances,” he said.

Some have even called his phone to be driven to their homes.

Ali said that he is not bothered that some of the callers could be Al-Shabaab members, feigning distress calls to set an ambush.


“I have received threats on my life. Some people who identify themselves as Al-Shabaab have called threatening.

“But I normally dare them to execute their threats and also warn them to prepare for a battle,” he said.

Ali is aware that his wife and 10 children are concerned by the nature of his work. Some of the family members think that he is not normal to risk his life. Nevertheless, he keeps assuring them that residents of Wajir need his help.

“I swore to protect Kenya and its people, so I am not afraid. I was born in Kenya and if I die protecting Kenya and its citizen, it is my pride,” he said.

Ali said in fighting the criminal elements, he has not prioritised allowances. He says he has a sizeable number of people who help him fight crime in the town, including the regular police and Criminal Investigation Department.

“Our resources are at times stretched but we have support from the national and Wajir county government. If we don’t have fuel for our vehicle to respond to a situation, we park the vehicle and embark on foot,” he said.

“At whatever cost, we will fight Al-Shabaab to the end, even if it means with our lives.

“What keeps me awake is the feeling of danger,” he said, adding that in his job, he has managed to arrest more than 20 people who were found to have links with Al-Shabaab.

He says the war on Al-Shabaab has been boosted by good rapport with the community.

“The common man is our ears and eyes. Ordinary people have provided us with in-depth information that has helped us in the operation,” he said.

He acknowledged that the threats still exist.

“The enemy is within. We don’t look far. The closest person could be the enemy. Don’t trust anyone,” says Ali, who has had trainings in China in guarding VIPs.