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Families of two Kamiti escapees reveal journey to joining terror group

By Robert Amalemba | Nov 21st 2021 | 4 min read

The three Terror convicts after they were arrested in Kitui.

The families of terror convicts Joseph Juma Odhiambo “Yusuf” and Musharaf Abdalla Akhulunga “Zarkawi” who escaped from Kamiti Prison have expressed optimism that their sons could still reform.

In Matungu and Mumias West constituencies where the convicts were born and partly raised, they are merely “misguided young boys who need a little discipline or talking” to change. 

“Juma was doing well. He even scored 336 out of a possible 500 marks in the 2008 KCPE and was selling scrap metals at Ejinja shopping centre in Matungu after our father failed to raise fees for him to join secondary education,” says his brother Julius Odhiambo.

He went on: “He started changing when he left Christianity and joined a radical religious sect that made him start throwing around swear words and stopped associating with us (family) claiming we were non-believers. Our father and I tried to talk him out but it had gotten the better of him.” 

Julius says he then referred his follower to their mother, Florence Nerima, who recommended that he stays with her in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area where he is believed to have worked at a money exchange bureau and as a clothes dealer.

There was some lull before a storm of calls started getting to the family saying he was arrested in Somalia where he reportedly intended to join the Al Shaabab terror group.

“Then, he called to say he had been sentenced to six months or pay a fine of Sh30,000 for trespass. He called to say he understood our family’s poverty and we should not bother paying the fine. He wanted to suffer the punishment which would be rewarded in the afterlife,” says Odhiambo.

“We realised it was not him. After his release, I called him home with a promise to buy him a motorbike but he declined, saying he wanted to study religion.”

The 32-year-old Julius says that was the last he heard of his younger sibling whom they fondly call DJ - for his former love of hanging around disk jockeys at village gigs - until their mother called to say he had been sentenced in 2019 for 15 years in a terror-related offence.

When he escaped from the maximum prison, Julius and his father Peter Odhiambo say they were broken to see their kin’s photos shared all over mainstream and social media as a wanted man.

“My phone was also ringing. Detectives were inquiring whether he had travelled from Kamiti to my home,” says Peter. “He had serious personality and behavioural issues after denouncing Christianity. He sold a cow and abandoned his wife and two children to go study much about the sect.”

The 57-year-old father of nine now fears it will not end up well with his boy.

“If he returns home, he may find me in the grave or, going by how I imagine they will treat him after the escape, I fear he may as well return in a casket,” he says struggling to hold tears in the glare of cameras. “I believe he can change if given time... if someone tells him that he is in the wrong sect and should return to Christianity.”

Away from Ebukhutu village where the two were speaking, Joseph’s mother Nerima who separated with Peter in the early 2000s holds that her son would soon see the outside of Kamiti gates.

“His twin sister, Linet Sofia and I keep praying to Jesus that he frees him from prison and the sect. It hurts me when I see how Linet suffer emotionally because her twin brother is in jail,” she says on the telephone. “I know one day he will be out without sneaking.”

Zuhena Hamisi Halima, the mother of Musharaf Abdalla Akhulunga, equally believes her son will be out soon after serving the anticipated additional sentence for sneaking from lawful custody.

“He had done some time on his 22 years sentence delivered in 2012. If all goes well he will be out,” says the widow at her Bumanyi village in Mumias West. “While growing, he was the ideal boy every mother wanted to have. One who keeps going to Madrasa and teaching religion lessons to anyone who gave him an ear.” 

Musharaf was arrested in September 30, 2012 and jailed for 22 years for planning to commit terror activities around Parliament Buildings.

His mother fears that some bad people in Nairobi cut in on the ways of her son who left western Kenya in 2003 for Nairobi when he was just 16 to study to become a religious tutor.

Musharaf’s elder brother Abdala Masayi says:” We never taught him to make a bomb, but he was found with detonators at the Parliament buildings. In the same way no one can escape from your average maximum prison, but he escaped. How can you do all these without help and influence from other people?”

He fears that foreigners took advantage of his brother’s humble education (he has no history of formal education) to indoctrinate him to take up terrorism and now wants police to spread their nets wider and “arrest people who are misleading my innocent brother.”

“If freed from custody, we will remind him that not one in our clan has been jailed on capital offence. The Akhulungas are hardly called in to answer to petty offences at village baraza. We will ask him why he is letting us down with this alien crime of terrorism.”

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