On July 3, Milimani Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi handed a life sentence to a Tanzanian national and 41-year jail terms for two Kenyans found guilty of orchestrating the Garissa University terrorist attack.
The 2015 attack claimed 148 lives and left scores of others injured. Magistrate Andayi convicted the trio for three offences — conspiring to commit a terrorist act, committing a terrorist act and being members of a terrorist group.
He handed specific sentences for each of these three offences even though the trio had been charged with over 150 counts of these charges. But who exactly are these accused persons? We know they are all young men with no previous conviction records. Sunday Nation now goes back and digs into their past to establish who they are.
Richard Charles Mberesero believes he is a hard worker and a patriotic person. That is what he told court during mitigation. He also believed that he was going to be set free to continue “working for the nation.”
He is the first-born son of Tanzanian businessman Charles Mberesero and farmer Fatuma Ali Bere. He was born in 1994. His father had three wives and he has two other siblings. He has no relatives residing in Kenya.
He attended Kalemani Primary School from classes one to seven where he claimed to have scored division one and Gonja Secondary School where he studied up to Form Four before joining a college to his advance studies.
What many do not know is that he was a self-confessed member of the al-Qaeda linked terror group based in Somali, the al-Shabaab. He told probation officers that he was recruited into the terror group soon after dropping out of college over what he claimed was lack of tuition fees.
Prior to the April 2, 2015 attack, he was living at a mosque at Mororo in Tana River, a walking distance from Garissa University. He went for prayers at this mosque every day at the crack of dawn except on the day of the attack. Although he did not attend prayers on that day, he left the mosque between 3.45am and 4.30am in a hurry, leaving his bag with his belongings behind. The court noted that this was ample time to link up with the terrorists.
He was found in one of the hostels by police on a rescue mission in the wake of the attack, but he could not provide satisfactory information about who he was and what he was doing there yet he was not part of the university community.
He was hiding under a bed in room 13B even after he had been called to come out. The court observed that he was fearful to come out and mix with the students because he was simply not part of them. Following his arrest, he led the police to that mosque three days later.
During an interview with probation officers, Mr Mberesero described himself as a person of good health — doesn’t take alcohol, smoke cigarettes or bhang. Even though he continued to deny the offences which he was charged with, he maintained that he was arrested on his way to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. When asked about the events around him on the day of the attack or just information about himself, he said he could not recollect.
In the probation officers’ report, it was concluded that Mr Mberesero, was not remorseful at all and that he was a difficult interviewee. In fact, he walked out of the interview, agitated and complaining that he had already disclosed more than enough.
Before the attack, 28-year-old Hassan Edin Hassan was a shop attendant in Mandera. He was born to Edin Hassan who is deceased and Sangaba Muhammed in 1992. His late father had two wives and his mother was the second one with two other children. Hassan was her last born.
One of his older siblings is a teacher in Moyale while the other is a camel herder in the same area. Hassan only studied up to Class Seven at Burduras Primary School.
He dropped out of school due to lack of fees after his father’s death. From 2009, he stayed at home helping his mother with house chores until 2013 when he went to live with his sister to help her run the shop.
Just like Mberesero, he is a bachelor, has no history of drug abuse but suffers from ulcers. He believes his arrest and prosecution was a case of mistaken identity and has maintained his innocence.
He pleaded with the court to hand him a lenient sentence and promised to be a better citizen if released. But one of Hassan’s cousins who was interviewed by prosecution officers before he was sentenced said he could not vouch for his character since he last heard from him in 2009. According to the cousin, Hassan was working at his sister’s shop by the time. This contradicted Hassan’s version that said he was still living with his mother in 2009. Investigating officers told court that he was in communication with the main attackers and actively participated in the heinous act.
He was also found with bus fare receipts to and from Mandera to Garissa around the time of the attack. He failed to convince investigators why he was in Garissa yet he claimed to be living and working in Mandera.
For this reason, prosecution officers called for a stiff punishment to act as a deterrent to other like-minded persons. He was handed 41 years in jail, although he has already filed an appeal against his conviction arguing that he was jailed on flimsy grounds and that there was little circumstantial evidence linking him to the attack.
Mohammed Ali Abikar, 35, was born in Wajir in 1984 but lived in Warkutut village in Mandera. Both his parents succumbed to an unknown illness in the 1990s. He comes from a polygamous family of three wives.
His mother was the second wife, had six children and he is the second-last born. The family are nomadic pastoralists. Everyone in his family lives in Mandera except their last born.
Abikar never attended school but admitted to having learnt to read the Quran. He had been in the livestock trade from a tender age. Before his arrest, he used to sell livestock in Wajir before relocating to Mandera where business is better, he said.
He is unmarried and does not have a history of drug abuse. He said that he has for years suffered from incessant lower back pain and has been experiencing hallucinations.
He denied committing the offence. On the day of the attack, he claims to have gone to attend a funeral of a fellow livestock trader outside Mandera. He claimed he was arrested as soon as he returned while on his way to search for livestock for sale.
His arrest came as a surprise to those who knew him including his family who described him as a peaceful and religious person. They also described him as hard-working and indicated that they were willing to accommodate him if released.
The court was told that he was mainly taken into custody because he was in the company of Hassan and communicated with the main attackers too.
Prosecution officers recommended that he faces the full force of the law.