Hawk-eyed guards at Mandera prison on September 14 spotted a man squeezing through a small opening at the perimeter wall then moved swiftly and arrested him.
Two months later, after rigorous interrogation and an intense legal process, the court in the north eastern town established that he was an Al-Shabaab spy sent to survey the local police station, prison and military camp ahead of an impending terrorist attack.
Abdirahman Abdi Takow was jailed for 30 years by the court on Wednesday last week.
In court, Takow remained defiant and refused to divulge the bigger plot by Al-Shabaab forcing Kenyan security agencies to be on high alert to protect citizens from the Somali-based terrorist organisation, a partner of Al-Qaeda.
The terrorist, who travelled from Mogadishu for the espionage mission three days prior to his arrest, also refused to reveal the identity of an accomplice who outran the prison guards and disappeared into thickets while he was arrested.
Mr Hussein Osman Mursal, a prison officer, was on the watchtower when he spotted two men moving close to the stone wall that secured the penal institution.
One of the men squeezed through a small opening which had been drilled by masons contracted to carry out repairs at the facility while the other stayed outside, apparently to keep watch.
The accomplice ran across a field in an adjacent school, disappeared in thickets and is still at large.
Mr Mursal gave his account in court.
Takow, upon arrest, claimed he was at the correctional facility to report that he had been conned Sh30,000 and needed help from authorities, a claim that the court quashed.
“I find the evidence is not denied, rebutted or contravened in any manner. The same is overwhelming against the accused who has not given any reason why he came all the way from Mogadishu and entered the prison camp,” said Mandera senior resident magistrate Peter Areri.
In court, Mt Mursal said: “I was at the watch tower when I saw the accused person enter the prison through an opening that construction workers were using while working on the perimeter wall.”
He was the first prosecution witness.
The prison officer also told the court that the accomplice escaped.
“The second person who kept peeping in took off while I walked in his direction. He ran through Mandera DEB Primary School compound,” he said.
Prison authorities handed over Takow to Anti-Terrorrist Police Unit (ATPU) after he failed to explain his presence in the facility.
A special interrogation team was formed and comprised ATPU, Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence.
It established that Takow was born in Mogadishu 22 years ago and worked as a mechanic at Yarshit, the current capital of Al-Shabaab in war-torn Somalia.
The detectives also tracked his way from there to Kenya.
He came through Bulahawa, a town near the Kenya – Somalia border that at the time was controlled by Somalia National Army, an ally of Kenya Defence Forces in Somalia.
“He came to Bulahawa a few days before Somalia National Army camp at Bulahawa was overrun early morning of September 11, 2017,” according to a second witness in court.
An anti-terror police officer told the court that the interrogation team concluded that the accused was an Shabaab spy sent to gather information on Prison, Police Stations and the Military Camp in Mandera town.
Sunday Nation did not to name the ATPU officer due to the sensitivity of his duties and also because he is stationed in an area prone to attacks against government officials have taken place in recent past.
The officer, as witness two, said in court: “A multi-agency interrogation team concluded that the accused was an Amniyat dispatched to Mandera to gather information.”
Amniyat is Al-Shabaab’s intelligence wing.
The officer further told the court that the terrorist also planned attacks at county offices and the county referral hospital.
Witness two also connected the foiled Al-Shabaab plan to another attack in Somalia.
Three days before the arrest, Shabaab overran an Somali National Army camp in Bulahawa, not far from the border.
“After a successful attack by Al-Shabaab on Somali National Army camp at Bulahawa on September 11, we received intelligence that their intelligence group members were in Mandera before the accused was arrested,” he said.
In court, the officer said the accused spent the night in Bulahawa before crossing into Mandera.
After crossing over, in the morning of September 14, the terrorist was spotted at Mandera Police Station before he was later apprehended at the prison.
Takow was among groups of people who had converged at the station to escort relatives who were travelling.
It is commonplace for travellers to be screened at the station since terrorists from Somalia pose as passengers travelling to Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.
Magistrate Peter Areri wondered why the terrorist did not report the alleged conning of Sh30,000 to police when he was at the police station, but later sneaked into the prison which is kilometres way.
Amniyat sends spies to gather information ahead of an attack.
“We had intelligence that a Shabaab spy had been dispatched to Mandera immediately after the attack at Bulahawa. He was to collect information on police stations, military camp, prison, county offices and county referral hospital,” the ATPU officer said in court.
In Bulahawa, 15 Somali National army soldiers and scores of civilians were killed and many others injured.
“That attack was to clear the way for the planned attack on our side and this accused was to report back immediately for action within a week’s time,” the witness told the court.
Several Mandera locals shown a picture of the accused denied knowing him but an elderly man identified the accused from the photograph as a descendant of interior Somalia from his physique.
On defence at the law court, the accused maintained that he did not know Al-Shabaab.
“I am not one of those people and I don’t associate with those people.
I am a refugee,” said Takow in defence.
But Mr Areri while sentencing him, said Takow did not deny evidence given in court.
The magistrate said the fact that the accused had been at the police station and then went to the prison camp leads to a conclusion that he was surveying the camps for an intended terrorism attack.
“He was collecting information to facilitate the terrorist attacks. I find him guilty as charged and sentence the accused to 30 years imprisonment,” ruled Mr Areri.