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Sins, scars and mutation of killer 'Confirm' gang

Rift Valley
 One of the residents whose ear was partly sliced off by criminals on November 6, 2022, in Manyani, Nakuru. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Nakuru]

The imagination, let alone a physical encounter with members of the dreaded Confirm Group, sends chills down the spines of Nakuru residents.

County Police Commander Peter Mwanzo describes the gang as a criminal enterprise bent on robbing and killing.

"This is a gang linked to most, if not all atrocities committed against residents of Nakuru in the Central Business District and at home. Only a sustained war can dismantle it," said Mwanzo.

The history of the Confirm Group dates back to 2007 when mobile money transfer services were first introduced. The services revolutionised financial transactions.

Data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) shows that transactions totalling Sh6.8 trillion were conducted through Safaricom's MPesa, Airtel Money and Telkom's T-Kash platforms in 2021.

With such astronomical figures and a high rate of unemployment, jobless and tech-savvy youth turned into fraudsters exploiting the information gap on cyber security among users.

This digital fraud led to the emergence of the dreaded criminal gang, Confirm Group, first domiciled in Kivumbini, Bondeni and Flamingo estates on the lower side of Nakuru.

"The name Confirm originated from their way of convincing people to confirm that they have erroneously sent you money. Once you notice a message of a transaction which is fake they request for a reversal," says Patrick Njeru, an elder from Kivumbini.

 County Police Commander Peter Mwanzo speaks after the arrest of a suspected Confirm Gang member (left) on December 29, 2022. [Kennedy Gachuhi, Standard].

This is a trick that saw many lose their hard-earned money before Kenyans became more vigilant in dismissing such requests.

"With time, they graduated to high-tech ways of swindling people. They began swapping people's sim cards and sweeping clean their mobile wallets and linked bank accounts," said Njeru.

This form of crime was not much of a threat until the group, mainly comprising teens and youth in their 20s and 30s, began to evolve into what is today one of the deadliest gangs in Nakuru.

"Their shift to other forms of crime that involve violence came about when they began to indulge in drugs as they had all the money. Kenyans became more discreet with their personal details leaving their taps drier so they had to look for alternative sources of money," said Njeru.

To sustain their operations, the gang has been using threats to residents against exposing them. Some residents who have in the past spoken to the press about the gang have been forced to flee the estates.

For years, Kivumbini and Bondeni estates became their main haven, with the government linking their existence to suspected drug barons who turned them into clients and smugglers.

In December 2016, the then Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery declared the Confirm Group an organised criminal group in a gazette notice.

Since then, the police have made numerous futile attempts to dismantle the group, some of which have unfortunately emboldened them or forced them to relocate to areas that were not prone to crime.

In the last two years, police have sustained the purge against the gang but the main success has been destabilizing its operating base in the informal settlements of Kivumbini and Bondeni.

 Assorted items including 436 phones, 40 laptops, 61 daggers, 6 swords, 15 machetes and 3,367 rolls of bhang recovered from suspected Confirm gang members during a crackdown on June 28, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

As the proceeds of their criminal activities diminish, splinter groups emerged and spread from Nakuru East to Nakuru West.

"From the Confirm Group, we have smaller gangs among them Mauki, Nyuki Squad, Gaza, Jerusalem, Boston Brothers and WaTZ. We have profiled 42 main suspects from these gangs," said Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Mohammed Maalim.

The gang has on several occasions fallen on its own sword, as sibling rivalry among the splinter groups leaves some of them dead.

Innocent locals have fallen victim to the gang. Whitney Atieno, 19, a Form Four student died after she was hit by a stray bullet during a security operation in Lakeview Estate on June 12, 2022.

During the same month, the gang struck Mawanga Estate where they executed three women at their homes in a span of 10 days.

The victims included 21-year-old Grace Wanjiru killed on June 15, 36 year old Susan Wambui killed on June 21 and Diana Tasha killed on June 24.

The three were killed in a similar fashion where they were raped, poisoned and their bodies set on fire in their own houses.

During a security meeting chaired by then Nakuru County Commissioner Erastus Mbui, the residents laid bare what they knew about the gang, saying it has the blessings of certain politicians.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) summoned MPs David Gikaria of Nakuru Town East and Samuel Arama of Nakuru Town West for alleged involvement with the gangs but they denied any links with them.

Days later, the then Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang'i visited the area when he announced changes in police leadership in the county and ordered an immediate manhunt for the criminals.

 Former Interior CS Fred Matiang'i vowed to wipe out the gang. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

"We shall deploy unprecedented fire and force on Nakuru gangs. Let no one come to lecture me on human rights. We shall not differentiate between them and their financiers," said Matiang'i.

A crime committed in December 2021 became a breakthrough for the three killings. The prime suspect Evans Kebwaro was arrested in Masimba, Kisii County on June 30.

He was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to 21-year-old Beatrice Akinyi. Kebwaro admitted to killing her on December 2, 2021, in Kwa Buda Estate which borders Mawanga.

He also disclosed his participation in the killing of the three Mawanga women while in the company of seven accomplices, five of whom were arrested in Kivumbini on July 1.

Even as the police investigated the matter, The Standard in its own investigation established that the suspects may have been involved or were at the scene of other murder cases.

One of the suspects arraigned in court over the Mawanga killings was Josphat Simiyu Juma, the first responders in the killing of 42-year-old Judy Wairimu.

Wairimu was killed at her residence in Manyani on June 1 alongside her two daughters Shadiya Wangare and Limsy Wanjiru aged 17 and 11.

A spirited operation saw the police led by county commander Peter Mwanzo run the gang out of town for at least three months before it made a comeback, killing innocent residents.

Pastor Samson Murage was killed on November 2 in Manyani slums where several people had their ears chopped off by the criminals as a warning.

On December 4, 2022, the gang waylaid, robbed and killed a recce squad officer Harrison Onywoki Onwonga, 30, as he walked home with his two brothers who escaped with injuries at Mazembe Grounds in Nakuru West.

 County Police Commander Peter Mwanzo parades suspected Confirm gang leader Dickson Macharia Waithera at Central Police Station in Nakuru on August 3, 2022. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Angeline Mary Wangui, 21, was found murdered, her decapitated body put in a gunny bag and dumped in Rongai along the Nakuru-Eldoret Highway on December 9.

At some point, Nakuru County Police Commander Peter Mwanzo announced progress in the fight against the gang after a raid in Msalaba area of Nakuru East led to the arrest of Jackson Marucha Obedi Yasin.

"Marucha alias Rodgers is among the ring leaders of the WaTZ splinter gang of Confirm Group. He was arrested in possession of daggers during a raid where the gang was meeting," said Mwanzo.

In his confession, Marucha said he was on his path to reforming and severing his ties with the gang.

"There is no structured way of joining Confirm. You just find yourself in it based on your actions and company. I have been in the group for around four years but I wanted to change," said Marucha.

Mr Mwanzo cites human rights activists and uncooperative communities as major challenges in the fight against gangs.

"It is unfortunate that some sympathisers protect these criminals. Our judicial criminal system needs to tighten its noose on them. Regrettably, social norms give thugs 40 days to go on with their crimes yet their victims have just a moment to live when they are struck," said Mwanzo.

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