Connect with us

Briefing Room

How lethal Al-Shabaab spy was caught

Published

on

Abdirahaman Abdi Takow who was on November 29, 2017 jailed for 30 years by a Mandera court after he was found guilty of sneaking into the Mandera GK Prison with the aim of spying for Al-Shabaab terror group. PHOTO | COURTESY

Hawk-eyed guards at Mandera prison on September 14 spotted a man squeezing through a small opening at the perimeter wall then moved swiftly and arrested him.

Two months later, after rigorous interrogation and an intense legal process, the court in the north eastern town established that he was an Al-Shabaab spy sent to survey the local police station, prison and military camp ahead of an impending terrorist attack.
Abdirahman Abdi Takow was jailed for 30 years by the court on Wednesday last week.

BIGGER PLOT

In court, Takow remained defiant and refused to divulge the bigger plot by Al-Shabaab forcing Kenyan security agencies to be on high alert to protect citizens from the Somali-based terrorist organisation, a partner of Al-Qaeda.
The terrorist, who travelled from Mogadishu for the espionage mission three days prior to his arrest, also refused to reveal the identity of an accomplice who outran the prison guards and disappeared into thickets while he was arrested.

Mr Hussein Osman Mursal, a prison officer, was on the watchtower when he spotted two men moving close to the stone wall that secured the penal institution.

One of the men squeezed through a small opening which had been drilled by masons contracted to carry out repairs at the facility while the other stayed outside, apparently to keep watch.

The accomplice ran across a field in an adjacent school, disappeared in thickets and is still at large.

Mr Mursal gave his account in court.

PRISON CAMP

Takow, upon arrest, claimed he was at the correctional facility to report that he had been conned Sh30,000 and needed help from authorities, a claim that the court quashed.

“I find the evidence is not denied, rebutted or contravened in any manner. The same is overwhelming against the accused who has not given any reason why he came all the way from Mogadishu and entered the prison camp,” said Mandera senior resident magistrate Peter Areri.

In court, Mt Mursal said: “I was at the watch tower when I saw the accused person enter the prison through an opening that construction workers were using while working on the perimeter wall.”

He was the first prosecution witness.

The prison officer also told the court that the accomplice escaped.

“The second person who kept peeping in took off while I walked in his direction. He ran through Mandera DEB Primary School compound,” he said.

Prison authorities handed over Takow to Anti-Terrorrist Police Unit (ATPU) after he failed to explain his presence in the facility.

AL-SHABAAB CAPITAL

A special interrogation team was formed and comprised ATPU, Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence.

It established that Takow was born in Mogadishu 22 years ago and worked as a mechanic at Yarshit, the current capital of Al-Shabaab in war-torn Somalia.

The detectives also tracked his way from there to Kenya.

He came through Bulahawa, a town near the Kenya – Somalia border that at the time was controlled by Somalia National Army, an ally of Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia.

“He came to Bulahawa a few days before Somalia National Army camp at Bulahawa was overrun early morning of September 11, 2017,” according to a second witness in court.

An anti-terror police officer told the court that the interrogation team concluded that the accused was an Shabaab spy sent to gather information on Prison, Police Stations and the Military Camp in Mandera town.

Sunday Nation did not to name the ATPU officer due to the sensitivity of his duties and also because he is stationed in an area prone to attacks against government officials have taken place in recent past.

The officer, as witness two, said in court: “A multi-agency interrogation team concluded that the accused was an Amniyat dispatched to Mandera to gather information.”

Amniyat is Al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing.

ATTACK

The officer further told the court that the terrorist also planned attacks at county offices and the county referral hospital.

Witness two also connected the foiled Al-Shabaab plan to another attack in Somalia.

Three days before the arrest, Shabaab overran an Somali National Army camp in Bulahawa, not far from the border.

“After a successful attack by Al-Shabaab on Somali National Army camp at Bulahawa on September 11, we received intelligence that their intelligence group members were in Mandera before the accused was arrested,” he said.

In court, the officer said the accused spent the night in Bulahawa before crossing into Mandera.

After crossing over, in the morning of September 14, the terrorist was spotted at Mandera Police Station before he was later apprehended at the prison.

Takow was among groups of people who had converged at the station to escort relatives who were travelling.

It is commonplace for travellers to be screened at the station since terrorists from Somalia pose as passengers travelling to Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.

SENDS SPIES

Magistrate Peter Areri wondered why the terrorist did not report the alleged conning of Sh30,000 to police when he was at the police station, but later sneaked into the prison which is kilometres way.

Amniyat sends spies to gather information ahead of an attack.

“We had intelligence that a Shabaab spy had been dispatched to Mandera immediately after the attack at Bulahawa. He was to collect information on police stations, military camp, prison, county offices and county referral hospital,” the ATPU officer said in court.

In Bulahawa, 15 Somali National army soldiers and scores of civilians were killed and many others injured.

“That attack was to clear the way for the planned attack on our side and this accused was to report back immediately for action within a week’s time,” the witness told the court.

Several Mandera locals shown a picture of the accused denied knowing him but an elderly man identified the accused from the photograph as a descendant of interior Somalia from his physique.

On defence at the law court, the accused maintained that he did not know Al-Shabaab.

“I am not one of those people and I don’t associate with those people.

I am a refugee,” said Takow in defence.

But Mr Areri while sentencing him, said Takow did not deny evidence given in court.

The magistrate said the fact that the accused had been at the police station and then went to the prison camp leads to a conclusion that he was surveying the camps for an intended terrorism attack.

“He was collecting information to facilitate the terrorist attacks. I find him guilty as charged and sentence the accused to 30 years imprisonment,” ruled Mr Areri.

Briefing Room

US orders new probe on alleged massacre in Somalia

Published

on

DAILY NATION — The head of the US Africa Command on Thursday ordered a new investigation of claims that US troops massacred 10 civilians in an August raid on a farm in central Somalia.

The move by Africom Commander Gen Thomas Waldhauser follows media reports that children were among those killed in an attack based on faulty intelligence.

“Gen Waldhauser referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to ensure a full exploration of the facts given the gravity of the allegations,” Africom said in a statement.

It added that “Africom takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will leverage the expertise of appropriate organisations to ensure such allegations are fully and impartially investigated.”

Africom had said soon after the August 25 raid that all the dead were “armed enemy combatants.”

A pair of recent reports in the Daily Beast, a New York-based online news site, cited accounts by eyewitnesses and Somali officials of unprovoked killings of farmers in the US raid carried out in conjunction with Somali soldiers.

“These local farmers were attacked by foreign troops while looking after their crops,” Ali Nur Mohamed, deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region where the attack occurred, had earlier told reporters in Mogadishu.

“The troops could have arrested them because they were unarmed but instead shot them one by one mercilessly,” Mr Mohamed added as 10 corpses were displayed in the Somali capital soon after the raid.

Africom’s acknowledgment that further investigation is warranted comes at a time of growing and shifting US involvement in the war against Al-Shabaab.

STRIKES

Defence Department officials have presented President Trump with a plan for less restrictive US military operations in Somalia during the next two years, the New York Times reported on December 10.

The proposed initiative would give greater discretion to US field commanders in launching strikes and rescind the State Department’s ability to pause offensive military operations in response to perceived problems, the Times said.

US forces have carried out about 30 airstrikes so far this year in Somalia — twice as many as in 2016. More than 500 US soldiers have also been dispatched to Somalia to assist in the fight against Shabaab.

Conversely, Washington is simultaneously suspending food and fuel payments to most units of the Somalia National Army (SNA) due to concerns over rampant corruption, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Only those SNA units mentored by US instructors will continue to receive the stipends, the report said.

“Documents sent from the US Mission to Somalia to the Somali government show US officials are increasingly frustrated that the military is unable to account for its aid,” Reuters said.

“The documents paint a stark picture of a military hollowed out by corruption, unable to feed, pay or arm its soldiers — despite hundreds of millions of dollars of support.”

SOLDIERS

A team of US and Somali officials who visited nine SNA bases earlier this year reported that expected consignments of food aid could not be found, Reuters revealed. The best-staffed base visited by the team had 160 SNA soldiers present out of a total officially listed at 550. Only 60 of the soldiers had weapons, Reuters said.

“The SNA is a fragile force with extremely weak command and control,” said an earlier leaked assessment by the African Union, United Nations and Somali government. “They are incapable of conducting effective operations or sustaining themselves.”

Kenyan forces have also been cited for allegedly failing to carry out assigned duties in Somalia.

A report last month by UN monitors charged that Kenyan troops operating under African Union command have failed to assist authorities in blocking illicit charcoal exports that are said to earn al-Shabaab at least $10 million a year.

Continue Reading

Briefing Room

Somalia Inaugurated a President, Dealt With Terrorism & Reeled From Drought in 2017

Published

on

In 2017, Somalia elected a new president as it battled severe drought and a resurgent al-Shabab. In October, the worst terror attack in the country’s history killed more than 500 people. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is ramping up its military operations as the African Union draws down its 10-year-old peacekeeping mission. From Nairobi, Jill Craig has more.

Continue Reading

Briefing Room

Pentagon Foresees at Least Two More Years of Combat in Somalia

Published

on

WASHINGTON — Amid its escalating campaign of drone strikes in Somalia, the Pentagon has presented the White House with an operational plan that envisions at least two more years of combat against Islamist militants there, according to American officials familiar with internal deliberations.

The proposed plan for Somalia would be the first under new rules quietly signed by President Trump in October for counterterrorism operations outside conventional war zones. The American military has carried out about 30 airstrikes in Somalia this year, twice as many as in 2016. Nearly all have come since June, including a Nov. 21 bombing that killed over 100 suspected militants at a Shabab training camp.

In a sign that the Defense Department does not envision a quick end to the deepening war in Somalia against the Shabab and the Islamic State, the proposed plan is said to include an exemption to a rule in Mr. Trump’s guidelines requiring annual vetting by staff from other agencies — including diplomats and intelligence officials — of operational plans for certain countries.

Instead, the Pentagon wants to wait 24 months before reviewing how the Somalia plan is working, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Moreover, they said, the Defense Department wants to conduct that review internally, without involvement from other agencies — a request that would further a Trump-era pattern of giving the Pentagon greater latitude and autonomy.

Luke Hartig, a senior director for counterterrorism at the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, said he supported delegating some greater authority to the Pentagon over such matters, but found it “problematic” that the military wanted to be unleashed for so long without broader oversight.

“A ton can happen in 24 months, particularly in the world of counterterrorism and when we’re talking about a volatile situation on the ground, like we have in Somalia with government formation issues and famine issues,” he said. “That’s an eternity.”

The Defense Department has submitted the plan to the National Security Council for approval by other agencies. Representatives for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and for the council declined to comment on the details, other than to stress that the military took seriously its need to mitigate or prevent killings of civilian bystanders.

“We are not going to broadcast our targeting policies to the terrorists that threaten us, but we will say in general that our counterterrorism policies continue to reflect our values as a nation,” said Marc Raimondi, a National Security Council spokesman. “The United States will continue to take extraordinary care to mitigate civilian casualties, while addressing military necessity in defeating our enemy.”

Approving the plan would also end the special authority that Mr. Trump bestowed on the top State Department official for Somalia to pause the military’s offensive operations in that country if he saw problems emerging, the officials said. The Pentagon has objected to that arrangement as an infringement on the chain of command, the officials said, and the new plan would drop it — further eroding State Department influence in the Trump administration.

Still, eliminating the State Department authority might make little difference in practice, said Joshua A. Geltzer, who was senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council during the Obama administration. Either way, he said, if the State Department wanted to stop airstrikes in Somalia and the Pentagon wanted to keep going, the dispute would be resolved in a meeting of top leaders convened by Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and the head of the United States Africa Command, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, in April. Although the Trump administration gave him flexibility to depart from a rule designed to protect civilians during military operations in much of Somalia, General Waldhauser has avoided using the looser standards. Credit Jonathan Ernst/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The question of whether to allow a veto has been a source of tension before,” Mr. Geltzer said of the State Department authority. “But it’s not clear to me how much it’s worth fighting over — so long as those channels for communicating and working out concerns are functioning.”

According to the officials familiar with it, the Pentagon plan would also exempt operations in Somalia from another default rule in Mr. Trump’s guidelines: that airstrikes be allowed only when officials have determined there is a near certainty that no civilians will be killed. Instead, the officials said, the plan calls for imposing a lower standard: reasonable certainty that no bystanders will die.

However, it is also not clear whether altering that standard would result in any changes on the ground in Somalia. Mr. Trump has already approved declaring much of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” a designation for places where war zone targeting rules apply, under an Obama-era system for such operations that Mr. Trump has since replaced. That designation exempted targeting decisions in that region from a similar “near-certainty” rule aimed at protecting civilians and instead substituted the looser battlefield standards.

Nevertheless, the head of the United States Africa Command, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, decided not to use that added flexibility and instead kept the near-certainty standard in place. His decision stemmed from the challenges of distinguishing fighters from civilians from the air in Somalia, a failed state with complex clan dynamics and where a famine has uprooted people, many of them armed, in search of food and water.

Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman for General Waldhauser, declined to say whether he would again decide to keep the near-certainty standard in place if the Pentagon’s new plan were approved, writing in an email that it would be “inappropriate for Africom to speculate on future policy decisions.”

However, asked whether General Waldhauser is still imposing the near-certainty standard for strikes in Somalia, she invoked his comments at a Pentagon news conference in March, while the White House was still weighing whether to designate Somalia as an active-hostilities zone, saying what he said then “still stands.” General Waldhauser said then that he did not want to turn Somalia into a “free-fire zone,” adding, “We have to make sure that the levels of certainty that have been there previously, those are not changed.”

Ms. Mack wrote that “it is very important for Africom to have a level of certainty that mitigates or eliminates civilian casualties with our strike operations.”

Mr. Trump’s rules, which have been described by officials familiar with them even though the administration has not made them public, are called the “P.S.P.,” for principles, standards and procedures. They removed several limits that President Barack Obama imposed in 2013 on drone strikes and commando raids in places away from the more conventional war zones that the government labels “areas of active hostilities.”

Among other things, Mr. Trump dropped requirements in Mr. Obama’s rules — called the “P.P.G.,” for presidential policy guidance — for interagency vetting before each offensive strike and determinations that each person targeted pose a specific threat to Americans.

Instead, under Mr. Trump’s guidelines, permissible targets include any member of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State or any other terrorist group deemed to fall under the 2001 congressional authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, even if they are mere foot soldiers who pose no specific threat on their own.

Moreover, instead of interagency vetting before each strike, Mr. Trump’s guidelines call for agencies to approve an operational plan for particular countries, after which the military (or the C.I.A., which also operates armed drones in several countries) may carry out strikes without first getting approval from higher-ranking officials.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

TRENDING