The day they dragged my son’s body in the streets of Kismayu

Fallen KDF soldier Suleiman Adan’s sister (left) and mother. INSET:   The late Suleiman Adan.  [PHOTO: STANDARD/COURTESY]
BY PAUL WAFULA and NYAMBEGA GISESA

NAIROBI, KENYA: On the morning of September 1, 2012, the world woke up to shocking footage of Al-Shabaab militants dragging the bodies of men in military uniform in the streets of Kismayu.

The militants had forced families to come out of their homes to watch them lugging the bodies leashed on cars. Kenyans were being subjected to same humiliation that Americans endured in 1993 when warlords dragged mutilated bodies of US soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu.

The Twitter handle for Al-Shabaab even referred to the infamous Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, saying “Just like all invaders before them, #Kenyan soldiers were mercilessly dragged in the streets of Kismayu by an angry mob.”

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One of the bodies tied to a vehicle driving through the streets was that of Private Suleiman Adan, the son of a soldier from Isiolo, who was barely out of his teens by the time he was enlisted in the military.

The Kenya Defence Forces promised Kenyans that they would do everything possible to have Suleiman’s body brought back home for burial.

Although, finding the remains of their son was supposed to dry their tears and bring closure to their three-month nightmare, the scars in their hearts remain fresh.

One-and-a-half years after Suleiman’s remains were brought home and laid to rest, the pain is yet to go away.

“My son grew up wanting to be a soldier and to serve his country,” his mother Amina says, her face aged by the ordeal. Often, she breaks down when memories of her son flood back. He was only 23-years-old when he was killed.

Amina leads a quiet life alone in Isiolo town, nursing painful wounds from the 30 months of war. She heard about the existence of a DVD showing her son being dragged through the streets. She went out, bought one and inserted it into her player and held the remote. “I just could not watch it.” 

“Suleiman had worked for two years before he went to Somalia and never came back. He had great plans for this family and when he got the job, we were hopeful that they would be fulfilled,” she says. 

A footballer, Suleiman had bravely followed in the footsteps of his father, Adan Idema, also a soldier who is currently deployed in South Sudan for peace keeping. He went to Isiolo Boys and St Kizito Primary school.

Since the start of Operation Linda Nchi on October 11, 2011, the bloodbath at Miido has been one of the lowest moments for KDF.

On August 31, 2011, men from the Eldoret-based 9KR battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Hassan left Afmadow for the 90km match towards the epicentre of the war — Kismayu.

But they were attacked from all sides a few kilometres after Afmadow, leaving one of the platoon commanders, Lieutenant Francis Muthini, Private Joseph Nditika Nyamu, Private Martin Kimngich and Corporal Charles Ndemo dead.

Private George Karari and Suleiman never returned to base after combat. The military classified them as missing in action (MIA).

SOCIAL MEDIA

Hours after the attack, KDF deployed more men including a team from its highly trained Special Regiment unit to search for the missing.

At the crack of dawn, the militants with a penchant for social media, posted pictures of the badly mutilated body of Suleiman on Twitter and Facebook. His body was later discovered in a mass grave with the help of residents of Kismayu after the port city was liberated by KDF.

It was transported to the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital in Nairobi for DNA analysis. It was later released to his family for burial, nearly three months after his death.  He was buried at Jamia Mosque Cemetery in Isiolo town.

Suleiman’s family is reluctant to talk about his death. They fear this can bring back painful memories. The family learnt of his horrific death through the Internet, throwing his mother and sister into their own private battle. It has been a silent war at home that has gone unnoticed for nearly two years.

It is a struggle to erase the horror of Suleiman’s death. The tormenting images of him being dragged in the streets are replayed like a bad movie every night.

Al-Shabaab has portrayed the ongoing war in Somalia as a religious fight against Islam. They describe the Muslims, who are not on their side as Kafir, an Arabic word used in an Islamic doctrine to refer to a traitor, an infidel, an unbeliever or a disbeliever.

The militants view KDF as a foreign force occupying Somalia.

Yet, ironically, Suleiman was a Muslim. According to the terror group, he should not have gone to Somalia. They argued that he endured the most painful death because he was Muslim.

The family is reminded every morning of Suleiman’s death whenever they walk in the streets of Isiolo town. Amina feels deeply betrayed by some members of her religion who branded her son a Kafir.

“My son was called a Kafir yet he was out there serving his country. I raised him and I know Suleiman has never stopped being a staunch Muslim,” she says. “So it torments me so much when his faith is put to question just because he was fighting in Somalia. He was not fighting Muslims.”

But her nightmare does not end with the terror groups and Muslims who branded her son an unbeliever. They are accentuated by the ruthless and heartless businessmen who are making money out of her son’s predicament.

“They openly sell the videos of my son being tortured in Kismayu in small video kiosks in the streets of Isiolo town. How do you think a mother can feel when people of my faith find pleasure in watching how my son was tortured?”

We bought the DVDs at Sh300 outside Isiolo’s Jamia Mosque. The vendor asked if we wanted a DVD of the late Sheikh Aboud Rogo preaching or the one with the beating of KDF in Kismayu. “My prayer is that the Government would one day appreciate the pain I go through and stop these businessmen from distributing the videos,” she says.

Rahma, 23, Suleiman’s younger sister says that though her father is a soldier, she cannot stand watching a man in military uniform. It opens floodgates of pain. “I do not want to hear the word Somalia. It is like everything starts afresh when someone talks about Somalia. I avoid watching TV,” she says.

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Kismayu Al-Shabaab KDF