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How Fazul sneaked back to Kenya in 2002 to plot Kikambala bombings

 Terror suspect Fazul Mohammed.

Fazul Mohamed fled to Somalia after he declared himself the mastermind of the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi in 1998.

While there he assumed a leading role in Al Qaeda’s East Africa operations.

In 2002, he sneaked back to Kenya and set up his base in Siyu Village on the Lamu Archipelago on the northern coast of Kenya, where he lived under the pseudonym Abdul Karim.

Siyu is a famous centre of Islamic scholarship near the border with Somalia, a little-monitored zone where Al Qaeda members slipped easily in and out of the country.

In that remote village, Fazul became a preacher and madrasa teacher. He established his own madrasa to camouflage his evil mission. Here, he was joined by a number of other operatives as they plotted the Kikambala attack in Mombasa towards the end of 2002.

Some of them worked as fishermen, others, including Fazul as preachers and missionaries. Here, Fazul married 16-year-old Amina Kubwa. He recruited her father, Kubwa Muhammad, her brother Muhammad Kubwa, a town councillor, and their cousin Abud Rogo Muhammad, a fiery Islamic preacher, to help with the Kikambala bombing.

In the write-up that police seized from Hemed’s house, Fazul had written something about his marriage to Amina.

In July 2002, Fazul was arrested by Kenyan police for credit card fraud, but he mysteriously escaped after only one day in custody. Flying Squad detectives, who had arrested him, claimed they did not recognise him. This led to the sacking of the officers and a top CID chief.

Assembled agents

The plot to bomb the Israeli-owned hotel in Kikambala had started in November 2001, when Fazul assembled agents in Mogadishu and began training them in rented apartments on using small arms and explosives.

Throughout the year, Fazul would occasionally sneak to Mogadishu to oversee the progress of the team there.

By April 2002, Fazul had identified the targets – the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Kikambala and an Israeli plane belonging to Arkia Airlines taking off from the Moi International Airport, Mombasa.

By August 2002, the group had smuggled a number of SA7b Grail missiles and shoulder-launchers into Kenya from Somalia by sea. The weapons had been bought in Yemen.

 Terror suspect Fazul Mohammed. [Getty Images]

On November 28, 2002, the team split into four groups; one group stayed in Mombasa, the second one went to Kikambala to suicide bomb Paradise Hotel, the third went to Lamu to prepare an escape boat while the final group, led by Fazul, carried out the failed missile attack on the Israeli passenger plane as it left Moi International Airport.

The three-man team that drove an explosives-laden SUV into the lobby steps of Paradise Hotel had planned to strike when some Israeli tourists were gathered in a group while checking in at the reception.  

When the driver smashed the vehicle onto the driveway’s barrier, the crashing sound sent the tourists fleeing and some dived into a nearby pool.

The bombers however burst through the barrier and detonated the bomb. The explosion killed 12 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists, and injured 80 people. A majority of those who died were hotel staffers.

At about the same time the car bomb struck the hotel, Fazul and his men fired two surface-to-air missiles that missed an Israeli charter airliner taking off from the Mombasa airport.

The aircraft had carried Israeli tourists to Kenya earlier in the day. Many had gone to Paradise Hotel. It was targeted while flying back home with another batch of tourists from Mombasa.

Fazul had planned to kill the two sets of the tourists – those arriving and those returning home. Their mass killing mission aborted.

The damage and casualties weren’t large scale as Fazul and his gang had intended.

A day after the attack, Fazul and the surviving terrorists returned to Lamu and escaped by boat. From his hideout in Somalia, Fazul continued to plan other attacks. In early 2003, spy agents sighted him at a mosque in Mogadishu, and in May 2003 he was spotted in Mombasa.

Saleh Nabhan, who was the leader of Al Qaeda in Somalia, was also involved in the Mombasa attack.

American spy agents contracted Muhammad Dheere, a warlord based in North of Mogadishu, to help them capture Fazul, but the operation instead netted a lesser Al Qaeda operative, a Yemeni by the name of Sulayman Abdullah Salim Hemed.

The captured terrorist informed police that Fazul was planning another attack on the US Embassy at its new base in Gigiri, Nairobi. This forced the embassy to close down for a week.

In 2004, communications from Saleh Nabhan, a senior member of Al Qaeda’s East Africa cell, were intercepted, leading ultimately to the uncovering and foiling of the plot to bomb the new US Embassy. The plan was to drive a bomb truck into the Embassy and at the same time to fly a chartered airplane into the building.

US Navy SEALS in assault helicopters killed Nabhan while he was driving South of Mogadishu near Baraawe on September 14, 2009.

In June 2003, the ATPU arrested six suspects and charged them with 13 counts of murder in connection with the November 28 suicide bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel in the seaside city of Mombasa.

They are; Omar Said Omar, Said Saggar Ahmed, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, Salmin Mohammed Khamis, Kubwa Mohamed and his son, Mohamed Kubwa. Fazul and Nabhan remained at large.

Aboud Rogo questioned

The Kubwas and Rogo had been questioned and released several times since February 2003. Rogo had harboured Fazul on Siyu Island between 2001 and 2003 and introduced Fazul to a local woman.

Said Saggar Ahmed was Rogo’s father-in-law. In June 2005, Rogo and the other suspects were released after High Court judge John Osiemo said that the prosecutors were unable to prove that the suspects was connected to the attack.

In early 2012, Rogo clashed with the law again when ATPU charged him again with being in possession of guns, ammunition and detonators. He also faced charges of belonging to Al-Shabaab.

The ATPU said that Rogo was part of a terror cell that was plotting to bomb Kenyan targets that Christmas. However, Rogo was released on a Sh5 million cash bail by a Mombasa court in February 2012. He was also instructed to report to the nearest police station in Mombasa and Kilifi counties and to inform the authorities if he wanted to travel out of the country.

On August 27, 2012, Rogo was shot dead by unnamed assailants in Mombasa as he drove his wife to hospital. Rogo was shot more than 17 times in the head. He died instantly. His wife, Khaniya Said, was shot in the leg.  

Stephen Muiruri is a former Editor (Crime and Security) at the Nation Media Group and a former Editorial Consultant of The DCI magazine

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