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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Al-Qaeda mastermind "eludes" Kenya Police dragnet



















Al-Qaeda mastermind Fazul Abdullah Mohammed may have been tipped off by a police officer about the impending operation to arrest him.

Fazul is believed to have escaped in a hurry from a Malindi house where he was holed up. "He may have been tipped when the raid was very close," said a police source. The officers recovered a T-shirt and a kikoi, which Fazul is believed to have been wearing before he escaped the dragnet. Also found in the house was food he was eating on the table, while the TV he was watching was still on. Police said Fazul literally ran out of the house since he also left his two passports behind. About 40 police officers, from a special squad consisting GSU and anti-terrorism unit officers, were involved in the raid.

In such operations, according to a police, only a few people are privy to the details until shortly before they storm a hideout. Fazul may have taken a matatu or a bus to Mombasa from Malindi. And last night, police said Fazul was holed up in Mombasa after dramatically eluding arrest in Malindi on Sunday. "We are sure Fazul is in Mombasa. We are closing in on him and the operations are slowly bearing fruit," said a top officer at the anti-terrorism department.

Police said the suspect, who had sneaked into Kenya from Somalia to seek treatment for a kidney ailment, apparently used public transport to Mombasa. Security was thrown into a spin in the Coast with a high alert signal sent by the office of the Director of CID, Gatiba Karanja, ordering that everything be done to capture the suspect. But Fazul, who is wanted for the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi and the 2002 bombing of Paradise Hotel at Kikambala, is known to be a master of disguise. With police moving hot on his trail in the coastal town, details that will put the security machinery in a spot emerged, as detectives found two Kenyan passports, which Fazul had managed to acquire — one given this year.











The passports found in the Malindi house bore one picture, but different names, date and place of birth. One passport was obtained on February 21 and is due to expire in 2018 and identifies him as Mirza Adan Hussein Ali, born on January 1, 1980 in Mombasa. The second identifies Fazul as Ali Mohammed Abubakar, born in 1972 in Garissa and issued on December 6, 1999, a year after the 1998 Nairobi bomb blast, and expired in 2004.

Director of Immigration Services Joseph Ndathi said last night the two passports could be fake and that Fazul’s pictures had been super-imposed. Two latest pictures of the terrorist, scanned from the two passports, were circulated to all police teams hunting the suspect at the Coast. Part of the alert to all police chiefs in North Eastern and Coast provinces, shown to The Standard, read in part: "All public and private hospitals in Mombasa and Malindi should remain under guard. All border points and the routes from Somalia should equally be manned properly. We must not also forget the proper surveillance of our sea line." The alert also said: "Fazul is expected to be sneaked in for treatment in a private hospital in Mombasa or Malindi anytime. We must stay alert."

Smarting from the embarrassing escape of the terror suspect from under their nose, police in Mombasa rushed to court a couple and their son and charged them with giving refuge to Fazul. The accused, Mahfudh Hemed Abubakar, Luftiya Abubakar Bashrahil and their son, Ibrahim Mahfudh Ashur, appeared before Mombasa Chief Magistrate Catherine Mwangi and denied the charges. They denied helping Fazul to escape arrest knowing that the suspect, also known Abdul Karim aka Adan Hussein Mirza, bombed Kikambala Paradise Hotel in Kilifi on November 28, 2002 that killed 15 people. Ibrahim Ashur denied a similar charge that in December last year in Malindi he harboured and helped Fazul to escape another attempt by police to arrest him.

The accused, who were arrested in Malindi, were remanded in custody for four days following a request by the police. The prosecutor, Superintendent Dominic Mate, said the police also wanted to interrogate Luftiya over her connection with the terror suspect. Two more people, a man and a woman, were arrested in Malindi late yesterday afternoon after they went to secure a house belonging to one of the suspects who appeared in court.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Fazul in Mombasa moved a notch higher as the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit head, Nicholas Kamwende, arrived at the Coast. Kamwende and Coast anti-terrorism chief Elijah Rop were in Malindi for the better part of yesterday, to collect evidence, including hair samples for DNA testing. Kamwende and his team will scrutinise contents of a digital video camera and mobile phones confiscated during the Malindi operations.

The police have also been directed to guard strategic installations against possible attacks. According to Intelligence reports, Fazul was first sighted in Barani, Malindi, last week. He then gained entry from Ras Kiamboni in Somalia to Ngomeni in Kenya using a fishing vessel: "He then used a matatu to Malindi. He camouflages his appearances whenever he goes to the mosques. His nickname is Chameleon," said a police source.

Kiamboni is the next town to Kiunga in Lamu and is about 13km from the Kenyan border. The Intelligence reports further say before entering Kenya, Fazul was spotted at the residence of a Union of Islamic Courts leader identified as Sheikh Abdille Hirsi alias Haman Turki in Ras Kiamboni town. Police have urged the public to help arrest the suspect. A reward of Sh325 million will be given to anyone who will give information that may lead to his arrest.

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