‘Superpower’ Spreads Terror In Eastleigh
| July 19th 2013
By AUSTINE OKANDE
As events to mark Somali’s 53 years of independence were ongoing beneath the blazing sun at Nairobi’s Eastleigh High School, more than 10 young men interrupted the ceremony by storming the venue and taking over proceedings.
The knife-wielding men, who appeared to be well organised in their operation, then held more than 20 people hostage before robbing them of jewellery, mobile phones and cash. Victims of the July 1 incident had no doubt that ‘they’ had once again struck with incredible impunity. ‘They’ are the Superpower, a criminal gang that appears to have literally taken control of Eastleigh.
“They were at least 10 youths of Somali origin. They rounded us up and ordered us to place our phones, cash and other valuables in a small bag,” said one of the victims, who requested anonymity, adding that those who hesitated to do as ordered were badly beaten.
Starehe CID boss Ndumba Thangalani told The Nairobian that the police reaction was swift: “Immediately our officers were informed of the incident, they trailed and made four arrests. The suspects were found in possession of crude weapons and the stolen mobile phones.”
The CID chief says the suspects have been arraigned in court, adding to at least 50 alleged members of the Superpower gang that have been arrested in recent weeks.
The Eastleigh criminals had previously featured in a watch list by The Nairobian that shed light on four ‘new’ criminal gangs in the city that could provide the next big security headache if left unchecked (Living in Nairobi’s gangsters’ paradise, March 29-April 4). Police sources also told us that at least three active murder investigations were linked to the group. At the time, Inspector General David Kimaiyo assured Nairobians that the police were a step ahead of such gangs. Since then, from the evidence of recent attacks, it seems Superpower has only grown in stature.
Link to Al Shabaab
“A few weeks ago, seven young men of Somali origin armed with knives raided my neighbour’s home and demanded that he pay them security fees, claiming that they guard the estate. When he refused to pay the Sh15,000 they were demanding, they attacked him,” a resident, who did not want to be named told us. One common denominator during the interviews was that nobody wanted to be named for fear of reprisals.
Our inquiries indicate that key gang members are Somalis deported from Europe and America, some for involvement in crime. Many are aged between the ages of 14 to 26 years and sport a similar hairstyle that may be innocuous to the uninitiated, but is used as a mark of identity. Their weapons of choice are guns and knives. Superpower thrives on extortion and robbery.
“Sometimes they just stab their victims even after being given money. We don’t understand the motive,” said a senior AP officer.
Tracing the origin of the dreaded criminals, Starehe CID boss Ndumba says that a few years ago a group of wealthy business owners in Eastleigh created a vigilante to provide protection. But the businessmen later decided to withdraw their financial support for fear of being accused of financing a terrorist group. This was after a series of bombings in Eastleigh since 2011. It is yet unclear if Superpower has links to terrorists like Al Shabaab.
Source of income
His arguments are echoed by Eastleigh North chief Paul Ngugi, who in an earlier interview with The Nairobian said Somali business leaders are thought to have bankrolled the gang. But like the Frankenstein monster, it has acquired a life of its own and turned on its creators. Today, according to the police, most complaints lodged against the gang are from the business community.
Another source, who claims to have once been close to gang members said: “At the time these businessmen and politicians were sponsoring this gang, many Somali youths opted to join to get income.”
Both Starehe CID chief Ndumba and the Eastleigh Community Association official Hussein Haji cite the following areas as the hub of the Superpower: Muratina Street, Jam Street and from Eastleigh 6th Avenue all the way to 10th avenue. No other criminals are allowed in these areas without the consent of Superpower.
Haji, however, says that instead of seeking excuses on the formation of the group, the police should be more vigilant and come up with new strategies to wipe out the criminals. He notes that the gang seems to have acquired the ability to disappear and appear at will in response to police operations to dismantle it.
But CID boss Ndumba claims that lack of commitment from some of the Eastleigh Somali community leaders is the biggest drawback. This lack of cooperation ranges from failing to report crimes to protecting the identity of gang members. To add to the frustration, he also says that it has been difficult for the police to prosecute the suspected members of Superpower because it is hard to get witnesses.
30 court cases
“We often conduct raids in spots identified by our informers. But sometimes the police are accused of violating human rights,” he says.
He is, however, confident that recent gains, including arrests and profiling of gang members, may be the beginning of the end for one of the city’s most vicious gangs. He points to more than 30 ongoing court cases against suspected members of the gang as an indicator of the success made by security forces.
The Prevention of Organised Crimes Act 2010 outlaws such criminal gangs. The government also gazetted 33 banned groups after the passing of the law. But while focus has mostly been on bigger outfits such as the Mungiki and Taliban, numerous previously unknown groups, many purporting to be vigilantes, are thought to be steadily extending their influences in various city neighbourhoods.
The senior AP officer we interviewed for the story hinted of a major pending operation against the gang — a position Nairobi County police boss Benson Kibue seemed to confirm, even though he declined to give details.
“Something major will be done, just wait,” said Kibue.
-Additional reporting by Hudson Gumbihi.
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