Enforced disappearances: Is this a new weapon against terrorism?

Tuesday December 14 2021

43 people have been allegedly abducted by Kenyan security officers since January this year and their whereabouts continue to be a mystery. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


As cases of enforced disappearance rise in Kenya, several families are distraught not knowing if they would see their kin one day — either alive or dead.

Up to 43 families have between January and November this year reported cases of their kin being picked by people believed to be from security agencies and their whereabouts have since remained a mystery.

In the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa, three families whose sons went missing between July and October are among many families that cannot account for their kin after similar disappearances. They fear their sons could be dead.

The families of Abshir Ali Garo (27), Jackson Njue (32) and Muhamed Abubakar Said (22) have since implicated the police for their disappearance, saying the abductors were dressed in police uniforms and introduced themselves as officers.

Garo and Njue, who are friends, were picked by the police at Ukunda in Kenya’s South Coast on July 24 while having lunch. They were driven to Mombasa, where Garo’s family resides, and since then have not been seen.

Garo was a hawker, selling small electronics and phones in different towns at the Kenyan Coast. His family described him as polite.


“At around 9.30pm, I heard a knock at my door. I hesitated to open it but when the men identified themselves as police officers, I proceeded and opened the door. Some jumped in and started asking for a bag that they said had money in it. The rest of the police officers stood guard outside,” narrated Garo’s mother, Dhahabo Hassan.

Ms Hassan, said she was shocked and confused when police ransacked her house claiming to be looking for money and a person they identified as ‘Rama’.

She was to learn that her son was outside the house in the custody of the police when she heard commotion as the police were beating him.

“While they were ransacking my house, I was wondering who led them to my residence only to look through the window and see my son being beaten by two police officers,” said Ms Hassan.

Ms Hassan has now been left disturbed, not knowing when she will set eyes on her sixth born child.

She has visited different police stations and several mortuaries in search of her son, in vain.

“When the officers were leaving my house, they asked me to report to Central Police Station in Nairobi where my son was being taken but since they left, I have not seen him even at the police station where they claimed they were taking him,” said the distraught mother.

Njue’s cousin, Charles Njue, said the last time he saw his relative was three months before his abduction.

“My cousin travelled to the Coast in April this year to do business barely three months before he went missing. He had been working in several fields including sales promotions. We had been talking all through until July 24, 2021, when his phone went off,” said Charles.

Police involvement

Police have since remained mum over the disappearance but Njue and Garo’s families have reported the cases to Nyali and Majengo police stations with OB Nos 11/3/8/2021 and 05/26/7/2021 respectively.

The family of Mr Said who was also abducted is pointing fingers at the police while hoping that one day their kin will come back home safe.

The madrassa teacher went missing on October 14 after leaving a mosque in Majengo, Mombasa.

His relatives said their kin was ‘arrested’ by armed individuals suspected to be police officers and bundled into a private car.

The family said Said was an obedient youth and a role model to many; he was pursuing a diploma at Umma University and did not have a criminal record.

The family’s lawyer Mohammed Faki said the youth has been a role model who sensitised other youths in the county against extremism, radicalisation and alcoholism and drug abuse. He called on police to deal with the many cases of enforced disappearance in the region.

Mr Faki, who is also the Mombasa senator, said he will petition the Kenyan Senate to discuss extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearance.

“The Senate must probe this matter conclusively to put an end to this pandemic. Abubakar is a well-known youth in Mombasa. He is an obedient and religious child. He used to lead in Islamic prayers at Masjid Ibrahim in Ganjoni whenever the imam was away,” said the senator.

The three are among 43 people who have been allegedly abducted by Kenyan security officers since January this year and whose whereabouts continue to be a mystery. Questions on how the exercise is conducted remain unanswered.

The latest case of such arrests is the of an Ethiopian businessman who was picked by people believed to be police officers in Nairobi on November 19 in broad daylight. According to an amateur video, the businessman, Samson Teklemichael, was driving when he was stopped by a man wearing traffic police uniform. He was thereafter removed from his car by men in civilian clothes who dragged him into another car as other road users recorded the drama.

His wife Milen Mezgebo said she has not been able to locate him since then.

“He called and told me he had been abducted by people he didn’t know. After that, he disconnected. We have reported the matter to the police and embassy but no help so far,” she said.

Ethiopian case

Kenyan police at Kilimani said they are investigating the abduction.

Teklemichael is originally from Tigray and deals with oil and gas products in Nairobi and Addis Ababa. His whereabouts remain unclear considering the civil unrest in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Milen Mezgebo, whose husband Samson Teklemichael was abducted.

Ethiopian Milen Mezgebo, whose husband Samson Teklemichael was abducted by unknown persons on November 19, 2021 and has been missing since. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

About 12 victims of abductions, some who were held for more than a month, were recently released but have since remained quiet without narrating what they underwent in the hands of their captors.

Kenya has between January and November this year recorded 55 cases of persons who have either been killed or who mysteriously disappeared in the hands of suspected security agencies, the highest number ever reported.

The Coast region leads with the highest number of such cases according to latest data compiled by Haki Africa, a human rights organisation based in Mombasa.

Haki Africa says 29 people have mysteriously disappeared at the Kenyan Coast this year, 19 of them from Mombasa and nine from Kwale County. Nairobi region had seven such cases followed by Kajiado (four), Lamu (three) and Wajir, Nyeri, and Kiambu each recorded one case.

Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid challenged the Kenya government to ratify the international convention against enforced disappearances and adopt laws to outlaw the crime in Kenya.

As the number of disappearances continue to increase, the Kenyan Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) has turned its sights onto social media platforms that are emerging as the new recruitment forum for Kenyan youths to join terrorist groups.

According to ATPU, recruiters have taken advantage of platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp to recruit young people into Al-Shabaab and ISIS groups.

The revelation comes following the arrest of two people, including a Tanzanian, by ATPU officers for recruiting youth to join the terror groups through a Telegram group.

Rajabu Mwinyihamisi Hamza and Iqram Ramadhan Rashid were found to be members of a Telegram group called Khalifa Tul Umah with membership in Somalia, Tanzania, Congo, Mozambique and Kenya.

According to a document seen by The EastAfrican, Khalifa Tul Umah and its members are connected to ISIS.

“Based on intelligence reports, the said group — Khalifa Tul Umah — largely posts radicalisation materials and other articles that evidence an interest in extreme ideology and recruitment,” Mr Bryzon Wafula of the ATPU said.

Security officers are also struggling to deal with the increasing number of tech-savvy youth returnees from Somalia who are in different terror cells run by Al-Shabaab.

According to the police, Muslim youth in Kenya are being radicalised and recruited into different terror cells either through technology or in mosques, gyms, madrassas and Islamic associations. Some of those with a bounty on their head for being behind terror cells include Muhamad Abubakar Said alias Minshawary, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha alias Seif Deen, Barigi Abdikadir Haila, Trevor Ndwiga alias Idriss Jamal and Salim Rashid Mohamed.