On January 12, 2007, two men and three women sent word to Kenyan authorities at Hulugho on the Kenya-Somalia border that they wanted to surrender.
The drab town that had been teeming with soldiers, police and members of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) looking for al-Qaeda suspects was suddenly on high alert.
The security forces thought they had finally smoked out Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the principal target of a US raid on Ras Kamboni forest on Somali side of the border.
US aircraft struck Ras Kamboni forest after intelligence reports indicated that Fazul and al-Qaeda cell members supporting the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) were hiding there.
But rather than finding Fazul, one of the world’s most wanted terrorism suspects, the forces discovered that one of the women in the group that turned itself in was his wife, Mariam Ali Mohammed.
The group included two other women, two men and eight children who had taken refuge in Kolobio village on the Kenyan side of the Kenya-Somalia border soon after US aircraft bombed the al-Qaeda base in Ras Kambonion January 7, 2007.
Civilians living in the area were forced to flee after the raid, but Ethiopian forces were on high alert, waiting to capture al-Qaeda suspects.
The safest recourse for most residents of the village was to cross into Kenya.
But the then Internal Security minister John Michuki had ordered the porous Kenya-Somalia border closed and stationed soldiers from the 1st, 7th and 15th Kenya Rifles at the key entry points of Amuma, Liboi and Hulugho.
With the increased security and Ethiopian soldiers on the prowl, the group of 13 had to rely on forest cover and darkness for two days to be able to cross into Kenya.
Frightened and desperate, the two men in the group, Osman Yasin Buh alias Osman Yasin Ahmed and Ahmed Hadala Osman, asked villagers to contact the Kenyan security officers and send word that they wanted to surrender.
The operation to receive this group of suspected al-Qaeda members was led by the then deputy provincial police officer, Mr Mbijjiwe.
Security around the Hulugho police station, where members of the Langata-based 7th Kenya Rifles had pitched camp, was quickly beefed up, ATPU officers summoned a helicopter from Garissa. and members of the public were kept at bay.
A team was organised to meet the group of 13 at their hideout.
Because they had expected to find masterminds of the al-Qaeda Somalia cell, the team was very surprised to find Fazul’s wife and his eight children aged from eight months to 12 years.
The two other women were identified as Sofia Abdinassir, 20, and Mulki Abdinassir Omar, 21.
Although the raid did not result in the capture of Fazul, it did produce his wife and children--and a laptop, five mobile phones, a Somali and a Swedish passport and a DVD with Islamic information in Arabic.
It also confirmed that one of the world’s most wanted terrorism suspects had not been very far from the scene of the raid. The two passports each carried the photo of a bearded Yasin Buh, but each had different names.
While Yasin Buh could not communicate in English or Kiswahili, Hadala Osman, 23, claimed he was a Kenyan who had lived in Somalia for the last five years and has been visiting his wife when fighting broke out.
He said he had no documents on him but claimed to be a resident of Juja Road estate in Nairobi. Yasin Buh, on the other hand, was at pains to explain to Kenyan security officers why he had shaved his beard.
While police tried to find out where Fazul was, ATPU officers bundled the group into a heliicopter that flew them to Garissa where they were held for a few hours under tight security before being taken to Nairobi where police booked the men at the Gigiri police station while the women and children were taken to Karen police station.
Fazul is said to be a computer whizz and an accomplished bomb-builder.
At the time, police only revealed that the “computer contained vital information on terrorism training and intelligence collecting including spying”.
Sources close to the ATPU told the Sunday Nation that they found telephone numbers for people around the world as well as email addresses that enabled anti-terrorisim officers to carry out raids in Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate and in Old Town, Mombasa.
The sources said further information mined from the laptops and the mobile phones led to the arrest last year of wanted terrorism suspect Mohammed Abdulmalik. He has been transferred to the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It is also believed that the information led to the arrests of other suspects, some of whom were transferred to Ethiopia. Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe would not say what ATPU officers found in the laptop and five phones.
“All I can tell you is that we are winning the war against terror,” Mr Kiraithe said when interviewed on the telephone.
Osman Yasin Buh and Ahmed Hadala Osman were transferred to Ethiopia. After rigorous questioning, Fazul’s wife, Miriam, was deported to Somalia.
From there she made her way to Moroni in the Comoros Islands. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was born in the Comoros and is believed to have many wives. Badroudine Fazul is the name of another.