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Airports mistake me for a terrorist, says Mohammed Ali

By Nyambega Gisesa | October 25th 2013


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An award-winning investigative journalist says he is in trouble because of his name.

Mohammed Ali – known for his explosive exposes on KTN’s investigative TV programme, Jicho Pevu – told The Nairobian he has been mistaken several times for a terrorist because he shares a name with a wanted man.

He said whenever he travels out of the country, he has to be cleared by senior immigration and security officials because of his “status.”

The name Mohammed Ali is listed on the international watchlist as a terrorist.

The famed journalist popularly known as Moha came to know about this when he was arrested and detained for over an hour at an airport in Europe when his name raised a red alert.

“That was the first time I felt really humiliated on international soil,” said Moha.

“The humiliation has never stopped at airports, including here in Kenya.”

Little is known about Mohammed Ali, the terrorist, and it is likely that it is not his real name given that criminals often use aliases. The name is also popular across the world. 

“I believe the terrorist stole my passport details because every detail is the same except the date of birth,” Moha said.

For every person on the watchlists, hundreds of others may get caught simply because they share the same name. People who share names with suspected individuals rarely board a plane without hassle because the watchlist kept by the US government is shared among security agents across the world.

At airports, the likes of Moha are taken to holding facilities, their passports taken and then asked not to use their mobile phones.

One of the most famous cases is that of 13-year-old American boy Mikey Hicks who has to be frisked a lot more than other plane passengers because his name appears on a list that sets off high level security screening.

In 2012, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan was detained for two hours in the US as his “status” was being checked out.

The terrorist watchlist that is part of the Information Sharing Environment system set up by the US.

“By supporting the ability of frontline screening agencies to positively identify known or suspected terrorists trying to obtain visas, enter the country, board aircraft, or engage in other activity, the consolidated terrorist watchlist is one of the most effective counterterrorism tools for the US government,” a statement reads in the ISE website.

One tip is enough to put a name in a terror list.

Most of these lists are maintained by the Terrorist Screening Centre that includes the American Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which then gives them to the US Transportation Security Administration that sends them to airlines around the world.

Moha’s Jicho Pevu has risen to become the most bold and authoritative investigative programme in the region. 

On October 23, the Inspector General David Kimaiyo said police plan to arrest journalists over “propaganda”, in the wake of last month’s terror attack at Westgate Mall.

Kimaiyo mentioned KTN journalists believed to be Moha and his counterpart John Allan Namu, whom he accused of incitement and “misusing” freedom of speech.

The KTN programmes, Inside Story by Namu and Jicho Pevu aired CCTV footage from the mall that revealed looting by men from the Kenya Defence Forces.

It questioned contradictions from government agents on the events that took place during the siege and aired evidence that put security agencies on the spot over the handling of  the ‘hostage crisis’.



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