NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 27 – Security forces have stepped up surveillance in the Coast Province following increased terrorism threats posed in the country by members of the Al Qaeda-linked Shabaab militants.
Police are particularly focussing on Islamic religious schools known as Madrassas, following intelligence reports that some of them are used to train and recruit youths into terrorism activities.
Some of the Madrassas under investigation are owned by individuals associated with persons who have been arrested, detained or prosecuted over terror-related charges in the past, according to the police.
“Our investigations are now concentrated on these schools. There is credible information that some of them are not involved in the proper trainings they are registered for,” said Coast Province police Chief Aggrey Adoli.
Police believe some of the Madrassas that are under their watch are funded by the Al Qaeda.
Intelligence reports seen by Capital FM News show that police are particularly interested in two Madrassas located in the Likoni suburb and at Kanamai, off the Mombasa-Kilifi highway.
Police believe one of the Madrassas is owned and run by a man in his late 70’s who was once arrested and detained in a terror-related investigation but was later released for lack of evidence.
The old man, who police said is under active investigation on terrorism-related activities, is also a relative to a controversial Muslim cleric based in Mombasa and who has been in and out of the police cells in terror investigations.
Persistent raids at one of his Madrassas in Likoni forced him to close it down, before it was relocated to Kanamai.
“We are aware the Madrassa in Likoni was closed after our surveillance increased there,” Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe said, adding “the investigation is still going on.”
Last weekend, police visited the two Madrassas as part of their wider investigation but they did not find the owner who was said to be away.
“He remains on our radar, we want to question him over activities in the Madrassa,” a senior officer in the security operation said.
Workers and some of the old man’s relatives at the Madrassa at the time could not reveal his whereabouts.
“He has not been around for a while. We do not know where he is and since he does not have a mobile phone it is difficult to locate him,” a young man who identified himself as Abdalla said.
Abdalla could not state his relationship with the old man in question, but police said they have always known him as his son.
The old man’s wife declined to speak to us, and instead yelled back saying “I don’t have anything to do with journalists, your frequent visits here sometimes back put us to trouble, and you have portrayed the school as having terrorism links. Please go away.”
She could not be drawn into discussions about her husband’s whereabouts.
Multiple interviews with security agents actively involved in anti-terrorism investigations in the country revealed that they were also watching a Muslim cleric believed to have trained and inducted Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, a Palestinian or Jordanian former Al Qaeda operative who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001 for involvement in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in East Africa.
“These people are always related. They usually induct their daughters to terrorism before marrying them off to their associates who are also linked to terrorism activities,” one police officer said, in reference to the relationship between two Mombasa-based Muslim clerics on the police radar.
Also on the police radar is Aboud Rogo Mohamed who was arrested in Kikambala in January by the Anti Terrorism Police officers.
During a raid in his home at the time, police said they found him with 102 bomb detonators, an AK-47 gun loaded with 27 rounds of ammunition, a ceska pistol loaded with 10 bullets, a revolver and 82 rounds of ammunition.
He is out on bond, having appeared in court on terror-related charges.
Kiraithe said although Rogo is out on bond, he remains on their surveillance.
“Our investigation has not been closed, they are still very active on this man,” Kiraithe said.
Rogo was released on bail after his arrest in 2003 over the bombing of the Kikambala hotel and acquitted of all charges on June 29, 2005.
Kiraithe concedes that their increased surveillance on terrorism activities in the country, and particularly in Mombasa was re-ignited by the announcement earlier in the year by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that they had now integrated the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
“We did not take this announcement lightly. Our surveillance particularly in Mombasa has been stepped up… we have several people of interest in our investigation whom we want to speak to. These are the people we are concentrated on and we will get them,” Kiraithe said.