The unseen war - Part 2

By Daniel Wesangula

The Originals

News of Aboud Rogo's death cut through the Mombasa heat like a hot knife to butter.  The fire brand cleric went down in a hail of bullets and as he breathed his last in the mini-van that also carried his wife and father-in-law, there was a feeling that his death would also call time on what the 44- year-old had come to represent- a brand of radical Islam that advocated for the creation of a caliphate in parts of Kenya.

Seven years after his death, the country continues to grapple with the problems he, and like-minded religious preachers throughout the country came to represent. The killing of Rogo was the beginning of a new set of problems for the country. Problems that had been created long before the cleric took the podium in Mombasa's Masjid Musa's mosque, willingly lending his voice and face to a jihad he was convinced had to be fought.

He might have been the face, but Rogo had an able team around him. Some known, most of them unknown and blessed with the gift of effortlessly blending in with the communities within which they lived, constantly pushing known boundaries of citizenship, religion and common decency. But before this group had their collective grip on mosques around the country, there was a predecessor whose teachings they swore by.

The Genesis

The biggest news out of 1972 could have been the Munich terrorist attack that led to the death of 11 Israeli Olympic team members and a German police officer. But for Abdul Azziz Rimo, a young Digo boy from Ukunda, the year was special because he received an-8-year scholarship to the Islamic University of Medina, Saudi Arabia. When he returned, he was a changed man.

His outlook on life had morphed into something different. More importantly, his understanding of the religion he was born into had changed, irredeemably.

"Rimo returned to Kenya and embarked on da'wah, which he referred to as jihad, amongst the local Digo Muslim community of South Coast,"  Hassan Juma Ndzovu, writes in his paper Kenyan Jihadi Clerics published in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs late last year.

His preaching became more intolerant, always insisting on a form of Islam he thought to be purer than what other clerics were teaching.

Soon, he found himself preaching a message that went against the very state that hosted him, often disparaging the government of the day.

"The critical and articulate Rimo called upon his audience to reject the application of secular laws. While adopting this position, he enjoined Muslims to support the unregistered Islamic Party of Kenya, believing it will usher the rule of the law of God to the Muslims of Kenya." Ndzovu says.

On February 12th 1990, Rimo, dressed in a crisp white kanzu and looking unshaken was presented to Mombasa Law courts where he pleaded guilty to sedition charges. He told the court that he indeed told worshippers at a mosque in Ukunda that he had no confidence or respect for the then president Daniel Moi and that Moi's  government should be overthrown.

The court ordered he sees a psychiatrist, after which he was jailed There was little room for alternative thought processes back then. Rimo, like many others at the time, found himself serving a six-year prison sentence on sedition charges.

But prison only emboldened him. When he was released, he went back to his home in Kenya's South Coast and together with a select group of dedicated followers secluded himself and cut off anything he deemed haram from his life. The way of dressing of his followers was strictly controlled. Followers were told to shun various values such as education. The committed were told to quit their jobs and instead opt for careers such as carpentry. He believed his was the purest form of Islam, and he was obligated to get as many people as possible aboard Mv Rimo.

Unfortunately though, his articulate firebrand rhetoric which just fell short of inciting violence made a lasting impression on some of his students. Students who would years later, get one over their teacher and lace the inherited provocative rhetoric with something more intoxicating- a call to arms.

The seeds of radicalisation Rimo had sowed sprouted and grew into a tree whose trunk remains too thick to cut. One of the branches of this tree was Aboud Rogo, a former Ford Kenya grassroots politician with deadly ambition.

The successors

Rogo started out as a democrat. But events leading to the 1992multi-party election and its unfolding effects in coastal Kenya revealed his true nature to himself. He, like many of his contemporaries in coastal Kenya opted to abandon the various political parties they previously associated themselves with, for the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK).

By then, IPK was accused of training guerrillas to take part in subversive activities against the government and of fomenting tension between the central government and populations along the Kenya coastline. The party was banned. Stifled, Rogo retreated to the place he felt most comfortable in- the mosques.

For close to a decade and a half this was where he thrived. Though alarming, his radicalised sermons were not entirely isolated. Different voices in mosques across the world were starting to grow an audience similar to his. In the late 1990s, global focus moved from transnational networks of extremist terror organisations from North Africa and the Middle East to the emerging Al Qaeda, a militant Islamist multi-national organization founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden and several other volunteers during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Kenyans were to be violently introduced to Al Qaeda during the 1998 US embassy bombings. Osama's Al Qaeda terror group, through a proxy, the Liberation Army for the Islamic Sanctuary claimed responsibility for the embassy attack that claimed more than 200 lives.

Apart from this, something more exciting was happening in neighbouring Somalia- the emergence of an Al Qaeda offshoot- Al Shabaab movement, which was basically Rogo on steroids. The cleric wasted no time in associating himself with them. Over the next 14 years, Rogo placed himself right in the middle of Al Qaeda and by extension Al Shabaab operations, playing a key role in not only furthering the group's ideology, but in recruiting for them as well.

The Nairobi bombing emboldened him. After seeing a mission planned and executed by his close confidant Fazul Mohammed, his fervour for a caliphate within the country grew some more. By the mid-2000s, Rogo, now the resident imam at masjid Musa in Mombasa, realised the kind of power he possessed. And with this power, he embarked on a mission that led to hundreds of men travelling to Somalia for what they believed was a holy war.

"dini ni AK mabegani (religion is having an AK-47 on your shoulder)," he says in one of his sermons.

Rogo was a hypnotic figure at the centre of a society and a generation eager to latch on to anything that would give them hope in a world they thought had all the hallmarks of injustice.

"Vijana nawaambia tuendeni Somalia tukatafte pepo. Peponi hakuna shida za maji, shida za askari, (I tell you young men and women to go to Somalia where there are no water shortages)" Rogo says in another sermon. At the time, Mombasa was struggling with chronic water shortages and the idle and unemployed youth were in constant collision with the security forces. Security forces that Rogo himself had encountered as a 34-year-old in 2002.

On November 28 that year, a terrorist attack on paradise Hotel, Kikambala, killed 15 people. Again, similar to the 1998 attack, another Al Qaeda affiliate Al Qaeda in East Africa claimed responsibility. The Rogo family land licked the boundaries of the hotel, and himself as well as his father were among the first people to be arrested over the attack. This was not Rogo's first brush with the law, and it wasn't his last. After a series of court appearances spanning close to two years, Rogo and his father were found not guilty.

"There is no evidence direct or circumstantial which connects the accused to the Al Qaeda network and their involvement in the preparation, planning and the bombing of Paradise Hotel," part of the ruling delivered by Judge J.L Osiemo read. "There is no evidence that any of the 4 accused had known those suicide bombers before nor is there any evidence that they had met and pre-arranged a plan to prosecute any common unlawful purpose. Where is the evidence that connects the accused to the murder of the deceased persons at Paradise Hotel? None, none at all."

The judge further ruled that the only evidence that connected Rogo to the Qaeda net-work was cell phone communication between his mobile phone and one Abdi Karim who the prosecution alleged was the main player and the co-ordinator of Al Qaeda activities in the country.

"You are free, you may walk out of this court to your freedom. Your sweet freedom as guaranteed in the constitution of this Republic," Judge Osiemo said in the June 9th 2005 ruling. And Rogo walked right into a newfound fame.

Almost always, Rogo's sermons were followed by a short talk by another of his allies, Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, also known as Makaburi. Makaburi's influence was so wide and far reaching that in 2012 the United States government designated him a terrorist.

"Abubakar Shariff Ahmed is a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for violent militant activity in Somalia," a UN Security Council statement said. "He provides material support to extremist groups in Kenya (and elsewhere in East Africa). Through his frequent trips to Al Shabaab strongholds in Somalia, including Kismayo, he has been able to maintain strong ties with senior Al Shabaab members."

Together, their messages hit home and Friday sermons were a must- attend event for hundreds of youth in Mombasa. So when they told young men and women to cross over to Somalia and fight alongside their brothers for a preservation of their religion, they obliged.

The new school

Their sermons were not limited to Mombasa. The two travelled the country, holding lectures countrywide. It is in one of these lectures that Iman Ali, an engineering graduate of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology first interacted with the preaching of these two radicals.

In January 2007, Iman Ali had led an angry mob of youth from Pumwani into the mosque, interrupting a mosque committee meeting, after which they threw out five of its members, mostly old men, whom the youth accused of corruption. A few months later, Iman Ali was elected the secretary of the mosque committee.

In a few years, the ambitious young man had become a crucial spoke in the radicalisation wheel. Together with Rogo and Makaburi, he becomes a key recruiter for Kenyans heading into Somalia to join Al Shabaab. Iman provides the infrastructure that recruits men into Al Shabaab and creates the Nairobi cell that grows from the Muslim Youth Centre, a grassroots organisation he founded, and into Al Hijra, the third arm of Al Shabaab operations.

The deaths of Rogo and Makaburi in 2012 and 2014 respectively forced Iman to flee into Somalia. It is from here that authorities believe he continues to orchestrate some of the most brutal attacks on Kenyan soil by Al Shabaab. 

Ukunda's dance with radicalisation


In 2008, a group of men, previously held in Ethiopia over terror- related charges were flown from a stint in detention in Addis Ababa and straight to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The men, arrested 18 months earlier had been fingered by several international agencies and governments over alleged links to terror cells.

The eight who are all citizens of Kenya were arrested on diverse dates between January 7 and 11, 2007 in Kiunga, Lamu, that strip of Kenyan coast that licks the Indian Ocean. Subsequently they were removed from the country and handed over to Somalia and Ethiopian authorities.

But by the end of that year, and through the intervention of a high ranking politician who was eyeing the vote rich Muslim block in the divisive 2007 elections, conversations  about their return were ongoing and in October of 2008 they came home.

After touching down at JKIA, they were flown to Moi International Airport where a convoy of vehicles waited for them. Six of the men were from Kwale County, and on that day they made a triumphant entry into the sleepy town to a rapturous welcome. In the eyes of those who received them, they were heroes.

In Ukunda, they were at the centre of a county with one of the highest Al Shabaab recruitment rates. Scholars and researchers say that almost half of the 1500 returnees that came back into the country between in the years leading up to 2016 called Kwale home.

"One of the key reasons is that Kwale has had so many conflicts since 1992. We have had them in 97 clashes, the 2002 Kaya Bombo violence, the Mlungunipa 1 and Mlungunipa 2 skirmishes. If you have a conflict that has never been addressed the risk of having a standby militia is always very high," Hassan Ole Naado said in an interview with sister station KTN over the shocking numbers of returnees in Kwale. Naado is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).

It is not just the conflicts that fuel tensions in Kwale. The county has been home to some of the most radical clerics, some killed, others on the run. Many of them remain active recruiters of Al Shabaab members and custodians of radical ideologies.

A history of conflict

Ukunda's history of conflict can be traced further back to 1989 when a police contingent raided the Guraya Mosque in Mombasa's majengo. A decade later, another similar attack took place, this time on the night of August 12th 1998 when Masjid Chai, in Kwale's Tiwi area was raided.

Police reports say that on that night, a unit was hot on the heels of a wanted man, Ramadhan Athman, who was on the run after an assault charge had been put on him three weeks before. Through tip offs from the public, they were able to trace him to Masjid Chai on that night.

Unknown to the police, a wedding was going on and when they stormed the mosque with guns and boots, six people lay dead including one policeman. The groom, Ali Mwajefa, too was killed. It later emerged that the couple was being wedded for the second time after   radicalised voices within the mosque claimed that the first wedding hadn't been conducted with the strictness that was required. Because of this, the mosque's Imam Abdulkarim Mwatachuka who was also killed that night, ordered for a repeat of the ceremony.

Ramadhan Mwajembe, the Imam who had conducted the couple's first wedding three years earlier told the press that the couple repeated their wedding after joining the Answar Sect that demanded a purified wedding.

Proponents of the sect included Sheikh Abdul Azziz Rimo, himself a native of Ukunda as well as the yet to be infamous Aboud Rogo.

The then Interior Security Minister Marsden Madoka offered another explanation, saying that the youth within the mosque were commemorating the anniversary of the Likoni killings that started off with an attack on a police station within the township on the night of August 13th 1997. 

On that night, hundreds of armed individuals invaded the station, stealing guns and killing 13 people, including six police officers making away with 20 rifles and 5,000 rounds of ammunition in what appeared like a preparation for large scale attacks in the run up to national elections later that year.

Family ties


But as the back and forth went on between local leaders and the state over the masjid Chai attack, another recognisable voice from the coast lent his voice to the debate. His bone of contention, the foreign funding for the expansion of mosques within the South Coast.

"Such foreign funding causes religious discord internationally. His funding makes the imams of these mosques sing to the tunes of their paymasters," Sheikh Khalid Balala said at the time.

It is this foreign funding that would bring together a group of men bound by a common home, a shared sense of victimhood and a skewed belief systems who cemented all these ties through unbreakable bonds of marriage.

When in one of his sermons, Aboud Rogo, the self-confessed radical cleric believed to have recruited many youth to Al Shabaab,  declared that 'true mujahedeen are from Ukunda' he had this close knit group in mind.

The first in this circle is a near recluse called Hassan Mwayuyu. Mwayuyu was a slick operator whose base of operations was Ukunda Town. Those who knew him said he was annoyingly polite who answered to calls of 'Sheikh'. He only moved from his sewing machine when he was going to one of two places- the mosque or his house.

But underneath the calm and collected look was a dark secret. Anybody who went to or wanted to go to Somalia had to get his permission. Those who felt they could go without his blessing ended up executed.

A family man, he thrived in marrying off his children to fellow believers and on one occasion duped both his daughter into marrying a wanted terrorist.

The bride groom, Salim Nyiru was so wanted that he never showed up for his wedding. The bride only realised this after the man who had taken the vows disappeared after the wedding and for Nyiru to appear that night. But it was too late. Nyiru had already got a bride for himself.

Nyiru was not his only wanted son-in-law. With the Rogo connection, he married off at least three of his other daughters to men similar to him, his sons-in-law sprinkled all along the coastal strip from Tanzania, Kilifi and Mtwapa.

Another of the Ukunda wanted men is Ramadhan Kufungwa. A native of Ukunda, Ramadhan became an all too willing successor to Al Shabaab cells after the deaths of Rogo and Makaburi. Investigations by the Sunday Standard show that after inheriting this block, one of the first things he did to earn his stripes was organise the 2014 Mpeketoni massacres.

To do this, Kufungwa, mobilised the Mombasa and Kwale youth into vicious gangs that run roughshod through major towns in the coast, violently robbing shops, pedestrians and businesses in what they called ghanima- the spoils of war. The proceeds from the robberies are put into the planning of the June 15th - 17th killings.

Some of the participants in the Mpeketoni attacks were part of the group that made that triumphant entry into Ukunda from Ethiopia in October of 2008.

"There is still some sympathy within the community over these people," Professor Halimu Shauri, Associate Professor at Pwani university's Department of Social Sciences and a long time researcher on the on conflicts within the coastal region says. "The solutions cannot lie on a hard approach only."

As this war between the good and the bad goes on, the economy of Kenya's coastal strip continues to suffer. The tourism industry the region depends on for survival is barely hanging on. As a consequence, unemployment rates among the same, easily impressionable youth continue to rise.

Over the years though, Rogo, Mwayuyu and Nyiru have all been killed. Kufungwa remains at large, but if history is anything to go by, his number too will soon come up, flashed by security agencies in relentless pursuit.?

Addicted to pain

  Fatuma Mohammed Musuo left her home in Siyu Island and headed to Mombasa for a shot at a better life. In the decade that followed however, she got embroiled in the murky world of Al Shabaab men, marrying three of them in unions that always ended tragically. 
No one really knows how she met her first husband.
“She just told us one day that he had met a man and the two of them were living as husband and wife,” one of Fatuma’s siblings told the Sunday Standard. No other information was forthcoming from their estranged sister.
“Whenever we tried to prod her for any more details she was coy, just telling us that the man was from Nyanza and that they planned to have a family,” the sister says.
The Masuo’s were pretty closely knit. They took social life seriously and when Fatuma told them that she had already gone in the family way and wanted neither attention nor ceremony to this fact, they were shocked at this gross deviation from the Swahili way of life she had been brought up in.
Fatuma stopped communicating with her family. She no longer participated in social events such as weddings and funerals. She was closed up. But even in this isolation, she was sporadically reaching out to another of her relatives constantly updating her on the growth of her family.
“When she got her fourth child, I decided to visit,” the relative says. “She looked to be struggling. The house had no furniture and only had the mattresses in the different rooms. No radio no television. Even the kitchen had no food.”
Later that evening as the relative left, she was heartbroken.
“I cried all the way to Malindi,” she says. “My sister was living a completely broken life.”

The first love

In reality though, Fatuma and her husband had deliberately chosen this way of life. They could never be too comfortable and were always ready to pack up and go anytime they heard an unfamiliar knock on the door.

The man from Nyanza that the Masuos had been told about and who eventually married their daughter was Kassim Omolo. Details of how and when the two met remain scanty, but Fatuma’s relatives said he was struck by Fatuma’s Bajuni beauty, her silky hair, full lips and round eyes under which dark patches would develop after years on the run.

On her part, Fatuma was attracted to Omolo’s dare devil nature. He was a man who paid attention to the little details. In his line of work, ignoring even the tiniest of detail could prove fatal. Multiple interviews show that after she knew about his exploits as an Al Shabaab explosives expert, she was smitten.

Together, the two became a modern day Bonny and Clyde, collaborating on a number of projects in Mombasa and were part of the numerous grenade attacks that took hold of the coastal city in the wake of Kenya’s incursion into Somalia.

Kassim was wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings and his alleged ties to the bombing’s mastermind Fazul Mohammed, whose wife was from Siyu, Fatuma’s home island.

Their roller-coaster relationship came to an end in June 17th 2013 when a team of anti- terror police raided their home in Mombasa’s Kisauni estate. Omolo was shot dead after what police described as an exchange of fire.

To fall again

When Omolo was away, Ismael Mohammed Shosi, another alleged member of the Shabaab underground was making himself comfortable in Fatuma’s Kisauni flat.

Shosi was the main suspect behind the killing of CID officer Mohamed Ibrahim, who was guarding a bank in Bondeni on March 25. His G-3 rifle was stolen after the attack. Police said at the time that Soshi was known for carrying out attacks while dressed in a hijab and had become a feared operator.

The two hit it off, and former neighbours said that Soshi would pass by Fatuma’s house on random evenings.

“He could be spotted on the verandah of Fatuma’s house in the evenings,” a source told the Standard, the two chatting late into the night enjoying the breeze of the coastal city.

Her four children too interacted with Soshi, who many thought would be the natural replacement of Kassim in the home. Fatuma’s family though insist that there was nothing between them other than friendship.

Soshi’s family says their son was never a terrorist, and the police was wrong in killing him in his house in Kisauni in September 2016. After this Fatuma went on the run, abandoning her four daughters in pursuit of her freedom. As she did this, she ran into the embrace of Farid Awadh, also wanted on terror charges.

Police alleged that Farid, called Faridi by his friends, was trained by Al Shabaab militia in Somalia and that he worked with Shosi at some point.

Faridi and Fatuma lived together in various parts of the country for close to a year after the death of Soshi. Unlike her previous other relationships though, there were no verandah moments as the couple tried to stay ahead of a fast closing grip on them by the country’s ant- terror police units.

On April 16th 2017, the bodies of both Fatuma and Faridi were found somewhere in Naivasha, their life on the run coming to a brutal end, with Fatuma leaving behind four daughters who all went to live with family first in Siyu, and then to a grandfather in Somalia. The eldest daughter, now 17 and who witnessed the assassination of her father Kassim Omolo is no longer under the care of her grandparent. Family member fear she could have joined the terror group, hoping to avenge the death of her parents.