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Rogue policeman looked lonely and disturbed before gun attack

COUNTIES
By Irissheel Shanzu | July 16th 2016
Bullet riddled building that is the main block housing offices and cells at the Kapenguria police station in West Pokot after an attack by a lone gunman that started at dawn. The gunman was later killed by Recce squad 14-07-2016. PHOTOS BY KEVIN TUNOI

The policeman who killed seven officers at Kapenguria Police Station appeared stressed and rarely interacted with his colleagues days before Thursday gun attack.

According to his colleagues, Constable Abdi Hakim Maslah was a reserved man who spent most of his time alone. In most cases, he carried out his duties without anyone’s support.

“He appeared disturbed and stressed but when asked what was bothering him, he was never forthcoming,” said an officer at the station.

Yesterday, his colleagues were still trying to come terms with Thursday’s tragic events.

Officers who reconstructed events of the day said nothing could have prepared them for the ambush by Maslah, who shot dead seven officers including the Officer Commanding Station (OCS), Vitalis Ochido.

Maslah had unsuccessfully tried to set on fire a fleet of police vehicles at the parking lot during the 10-hour ordeal at the station.

“He wanted to cause massive destruction at the police station since he had tried burning and shooting at the petrol tanks of the vehicles,” West Pokot County Police Commandant Mathews Kuto said yesterday. Earlier, the officer had been spotted at the parking yard removing fuel tank caps from the vehicles.

Kuto said when the officer committed the offence, he was on duty and was armed with a government firearm.

The police commandant said the officer had taken control of reporting desk area, which is the main entrance to the station.

“Some of the police officers who tried to approach him at the reporting desk were shot. His aim was to kill everybody who came close to him,” said Kuto.

Residents of Makutano where the officer spent most of his free time said he usually visited the town wearing casual clothes and buying miraa. They never spotted him in his official police uniform.

“He never visited bars and restaurants. Most of the time, he preferred staying at his house at the police quarters,” a resident said.

Trouble at the station, according to Kuto, started at 5.30 am on Thursday when Maslah shot one officer at the reporting office. By then, efforts to subdue him were unsuccessful.

“I heard gunshots at 5.30 am when I was still in my house a few metres from the station. I immediately called the OCS to ascertain what was happening. The OCS rushed to the reporting desk to establish what was happening but the gun shots continued and when I tried calling the OCS, his phone went unanswered,” he said.

Kuto said he rushed to the scene but could not access the reporting office since the shots continued.

“I immediately called the AP commandant Julius Kimeu to rescue us since we could not access the armory. He responded immediately and mobilised AP officers who came over to help save the situation,” said Kuto.

One of the police officers at the reporting desk managed hid under a table and was still traumatised by the time he was rescued at 3.00 pm.

Kuto said all suspects who were held at the station were safe since the killer officer did not access the cells. The suspects were also not injured in the incident. As Maslah had covered his head during the shooting to conceal his identity, officers at the station believed a terror suspect had attacked them.

Maslah, who graduated from Kenya Police College, Kiganjo, in 2013 was under police radar over his links with Omar Okwaki Eumod who was being held in the cells in connection with terrororism. “Everybody thought the gunman was an Al Shabaab militia but on seeing his body, we could not believe he was one of our own,” a police officer said. Maslah was said to have been in constant communication with the suspect before he was arrested.

Kuto said he was not aware the officers had work-related issue bothering him. He is said to have contemplated resigning after his transfer request was rejected.

West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin, while condoling with the families of the deceased officers, said the fact that the gunman was a police officer is a wake up call that extremism had infiltrated the security apparatus. “I would like to call upon the government to devolve key security apparatus like the Recce squad to improve response at the local level,” said the Governor.

Kachapin said the government should invest more in the country’s security to ensure that Kenyans are safe.

“It is a great reminder to Kenyans to be vigilant because many of our youths are being radicalised to join terror groups,” he said.

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