Coast families in agony over missing kin taken by 'police'

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Mzee Mohamed Khalifa, whose son, Mohamed Khalifah, disappeared in the hands of people he suspects were police officers breaks down as he narrates his ordeal on March 6, 2018. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MOHAMED AHMED

“She has dropped from position two to 32 out of 33 pupils in her class. Life has not been [the same for] her since she learnt that her father is missing,” says Sada Suleiman of her 11-year-old daughter.

Her former school teacher said her child's performance dropped when she got to Standard Four and had to be transferred to a public school because of financial constraints.

ROUGHED UP

The Standard Five pupil has been traumatised by her father not returning home since 2016.

Sada had told her daughter that her father, Hemed Salim Hemed, was sick and that he was being treated in India from and would return "soon".

That lie was exposed after the daughter saw her father on TV being roughed up by what they believe were anti-terrorism police.

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She saw the clip of the incident in 2016, two years after it happened on February 2014.

It is claimed Hemed was arrested by a contingent of police officers after they were called in to disperse a suspected radicalisation meeting at Masjid Musa in Majengo, Mombasa.

UNKNOWN

Four years now since his disappearance, none of Hemed’s relatives knows of his whereabouts.

The poor performance of her daughter in school, Sada says, was among the effects the family was facing for losing their loved one.

Sada wishes that the lie she told her daughter of seeing her father soon could be true, but it is not.

The disappearance of her husband allegedly in the hands of the police has also left her in a dilemma on whether to declare herself a widow or not.

“I don't know if I should look for someone to get married to or if I am still someone else’s wife. I am just confused,” says Sada.

SEEK HELP

Sada has had to seek help from her relatives in fostering her two children.

She has given out her first born to her brother to raise her.

“I now live in a single room with the last born whose needs as well as mine I struggle to cater for. I have no one here now that our sole breadwinner is no longer here,” she says.

Sada now operates a tailoring shop in Magongo, Changamwe, Mombasa, where she earns her daily bread.

“On Monday, I went to seek help from some Good Samaritans who sponsor orphans to pursue education but my efforts to secure my daughter a sponsorship hit a snag as I was requested to produce my husband’s death certificate,” she said.

CERTIFICATE

Sada could not produce the document as she does not know if her husband is dead or not.

She says the process of obtaining it will also land her “into problems” since her husband was tagged a “terrorist”.

“When any issue arises in regard to my children the memories of my husband return. I just feel it happened yesterday. I do not know why they had to take him but God knows better,” she says.

The hard questions that remain in Sada’s mind are the same that are still unanswered to Mr Mohammed Khalifa, the father of a 26-year-old man who was forcibly bundled into a waiting car by people believed to be police in September 2017.

Six months now since Khalifa Mohammed went missing, his father has known no peace.

His swollen and reddish eyes tell the pain that the 54-year-old man has gone through in search of his second born.

“I would not say that I have been sleeping," says Mr Khalifa.

"What I have been doing is just resting for the last six months. I wake up in the middle of the night just to think of any clue I can follow that will lead me to seeing my son, dead or alive."

TEARS

During this interview at a small office in Mombasa’s central business district, Khalifa paused twice just to let tears roll down his cheeks.

His are painful tears of losing a son whom he said was his “life partner”.

“His mother has grown old. Older than the age she is. She cannot eat well because her friend is not there," he says.

"My son was cherished by all in the family. I said we should not do this interview at home because I thought of the pain that is still in the family on this matter."

The family has not been able to trace Mohammed since the police who were in civilian clothes drove away with him at Kongowea market.

He was taken by the six officers whom sources said were from the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit.

MASJID MUSA

Mohammed was among 70 people who were arrested back in 2014 in a swoop at Masjid Musa.

The 70 youth were later charged with being members of a terrorist group but were later freed after the prosecution failed to prove their case before a Mombasa court.

“If they had any suspicions on my son they should have used the right procedures but not doing things that have left many in the family with anger. It is so sad to lose a son you treasure,” says Khalifa.

The father of four, who has visited Coast hospitals, prisons, police stations and mortuaries to look for his beloved one, says he still has faith he will see him one day.

Khalifa has been to as far as Voi and Mtito-Andei in search of his son.

He says he has been moving up and down whenever he gets information of a body that has been dumped in mortuaries or in the bushes.

SEARCH TRIPS

The man has made several trips to confirm whether any of the reported bodies which have been found could be that of his son, but in vain.

“I will wait however long it will take me," he says.

"I just know that I will see my son whether dead or alive. I believe in God and he has been the one who has given me strength to stay put."

The family of Abubakar Abdulkadir, 56, who went missing on November last year, is also in agony over his disappearance.

Abubakar, alias Shebe, was waylaid while coming from a mosque by six armed men in Barani, Malindi, Kilifi County.

For five months now, the family has not heard anything about their kin who was at the time of his disappearance on medication.

Life has not been the same in Abubakar’s family.

The elderly man who was the bread winner of the family of six children has not been found in any of the mortuaries that the family has visited.

Taking meals together as a family has been the hardest experience that they have had to endure.

UNABLE TO EAT

“We end up staring at each other instead of eating. No one feels like they should eat. We just feel like we are in this world just for the sake of it,” says Khadija Abubakar, a daughter.

Abubakar is the father of terror suspect Abdulkadir Abubakar, who has a Sh2 million bounty on his head, and Khadija, who is out on Sh500,000 bond in terror-related charges.

Khadija was charged together with three other women in a Mombasa court.

The others are Ummulkheir Sadri Abdalla, Maryam Said Aboud and Halima Adan Ali.

They were arrested in Mandera County in 2015 while allegedly attempting to cross to Somalia.

“We have been subjected to injustices. There are laws which are followed. No one is guilty until proven so. Abducting the head of someone’s family is not justice,” she said.

DEAD OR ALIVE?

She adds: “Nothing has happened so far in regard to the disappearance of our father. We do not know where he is whether he alive or dead only God knows better.”

Some families have resorted to remain mum over the disappearances of their relatives, a quagmire that is still haunting a majority of them in the Coast region.

According Prof Halim Shauri, a sociologist and a lecturer at Pwani University, families of the suspects are most affected as they are “backbone of societies”.

“There are primary and secondary victims of any problem and the families are the primary one. The wives and the parents are deeply affected because the fact is they still believe there are laws which should have been followed instead of having their loved ones taken from them,” says Prof Shauri.

EXTREMISM

Hei adds that the effect of having the suspects vanish is devastating as it continues the trend of extremism.

“For instance, that kid should not be subjected to psychological torture. The government should ensure that children of terror suspects are looked after so that they do not grow up with a sense of vengeance,” he says.

He believes the children are not supposed to be victimised for mistakes of their fathers but should instead be brought closer to the government.

Prof Shauri who has, together with Dr Hassan Mwakimako, co-authored a report on analysis of the government amnesty on Al-Shabaab returnees, notes that the families will remain defensive as the society is guided by laws which were breached by the captors of their relatives.

“We are guided by the law. No one has the licence to break the law and that is a fact that will remain in every of these families," he says.

"We must act within the law to ensure we avert cases of what appear to be impunity to some."