Today is Mansur Mohamed Surur’s birthday. He turns 60. If everything had gone as planned, Mr Surur would probably be sitting on the veranda of his house in his home town Mombasa, enjoying the sea breeze and thanking God for another good year.
Perhaps this is why he flew in from Yemen on Wednesday – to be home to celebrate another new year of life with loved ones.
But then a contingent of security agents from at least five units spoilt the party even before it began.
Mr Surur, a wanted suspect in the US for allegedly engaging in money laundering, smuggling of ivory and drug trade, was arrested in the wee hours of Wednesday at the Moi International Airport, where he landed aboard a chartered flight.
More than 20 officers from the Interpol, Anti-Narcotics and Anti-Terrorism units, Kenya Wildlife Service and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations were involved in the operation.
Mr Surur was among 47 Kenyans on the Skyward Express 5Y-SKM (DHC8) flight, which was to land at around 7pm, but was delayed, touching down in Mombasa past midnight.
The officers picked out five individuals, including Mr Surur, and began checking their luggage.
A witness who was on the flight told The Saturday Nation “the officers appeared like they did not know exactly who their suspect was”.
Mr Surur, dressed in a grey checked shirt and jeans, appeared calm as he was being searched. Then he was spirited away, with his luggage, to the Airport Police Station.
The Saturday Nation has learnt that the security agents had on Monday received information from Yemen about a suspect who was on the wanted list in the US, for poaching and trafficking of narcotics.
“We had received information that he would be on the plane and that is why the operation went on successfully,” said a detective who was part of the operation.
After his arrest, Mr Surur was moved to the Port Police Station before he was transferred to Nairobi on Wednesday evening.
Officials say that the suspect will be extradited to New York, where he was indicted of conspiracy to traffic rhino horns and ivory valued at more than Sh750 million, and which involved the illegal killing of more than 35 rhinos and 100 elephants.
According to a five-count indictment by the US department of Justice, Southern District of New York prosecutors unsealed in July 2019, and upon which his warrant of arrest was issued, Mr Surur – together with another Kenyan national, Abdi Hussein Ahmed aka Abu Khadi, Liberian national Moazu Kroma aka Kampala Man, and Guinean Amara Cherif aka Bamba Isiaka – is accused of being a member of an international criminal network.
The US accuses the four of running criminal networks spanning Kenya, Uganda, DR Congo, Guinea, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania, selling to buyers in Manhattan, New York, and countries in Southeast Asia.
The four have also been formally indicted by the US on money laundering and participating in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 10 kilograms of heroin.
From December 2012 through May 2019, Mr Surur, Ahmed and the two others are accused of conspiring to transport, distribute, sell and smuggle at least 190kg of rhinoceros horns and at least 10 tonnes of elephant ivory from or involving various countries in East Africa to buyers located in the US.
According to the indictment, the four exported and agreed to export the horns and ivory to foreign buyers in packaging that concealed them in pieces of art such as African masks and statues.
They allegedly received and deposited money from foreign customers via wire transfers, some through US financial institutions, and in cash.
From August 2018 through to May 2019, Mr Surur and Ahmed are accused of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 10kg of heroin to a buyer in New York.
The four, the indictment further shows, were being monitored by the US Drug Enforcement Agencies (DEA), where they are alleged to have met a US undercover agent with whom they discussed the price, weight of the rhinoceros horns, payments and delivery options. The US agents were also monitoring their phone and e-mail communications and bank transactions.
“Mr Surur met the agent in Kenya in July 2017, where he offered to sell four parts of rhinoceros horns weighing 4.2kg at a cost of 6.2 million (sic). The informant was even able to take photos of the rhino horns on sale,” the indictment reads.
On November 21, 2017, Mr. Surur together with his accomplices, met the agent in Kampala, Uganda, where Mr Kromah indicated that he had elephant tusk, and agreed to ship the same to the US.
On February 12, 2018, the informant once again met the four in Kampala, where he asked to purchase the rhino horn, asking if they could ship it to Dakar, Senegal, for onward transmission to Manhattan, New York.
“Kromah agreed to organise the shipping of the horn to Senegal and onward to China Town in Manhattan, New York,” the indictment adds.
Three days later, Mr Surur spoke to the undercover agent, exchanging several electronic messages in which he shared images of the rhino horns which weighed one kilogramme, and was available for purchase.
On March 2, 2018, the undercover agent met with Mr Surur and Ahmed and receivedSh1.8 million for the horn and a further Sh117,000 as commission. Two weeks later, US agents intercepted the package containing the horn, which had been sent by Mr Surur.