More questions than answers over Fazul

Saturday August 16 2008

By KWENDO OPANGA [email protected]

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe denies the popular view that mass murder mastermind Fazul remains at large because he has links with crooked and criminal elements in the Kenya Police.

In other words, Kiraithe is asking Kenyans and the world to believe that the architect of the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi is a ghostly Houdini-style escape artist.

Fazul, Kiraithe is saying, is expertly running rings around genuinely perplexed and legitimately puzzled police officers.

That, of course, is an outrage, especially given that neither Kenyan nor Tanzanian authorities had even a whiff of the planning of the twin bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

Nobody is safe

On the evidence of the deaths of more than 200 people on that August morning ten years ago last week, as long as Fazul remains a free man nobody within Kenya’s borders can be safe.

The danger is that with Fazul out there and a free man another atrocity could be visited against Kenyans at any time. Fazul deserves a long stretch of time in prison, with the keys to his cell thrown in the sea.

But it is the 10-year failure to capture Fazul, even when this has seemed the easier thing to do, that raises widespread suspicion that Kiraithe’s comrades-in-fighting crime, have question marks all over their faces and uniforms.

Listen to this. Sometime in 2003 I had lunch at the Tamarind with high-ranking officials of the Israeli mission in Nairobi.

It was clear they wanted to fill me in on their take on — and exasperation with — the way the Kenya Police was handling the Fazul matter.

Remember that it was just the previous year that terrorists had blown up the Kikambala-based Paradise Hotel in the hunt for Israelis.

This is to say that the mission was keenly following the investigations into the Kikambala bombing, the failed missile attack on an Israeli jetliner and the hunt for the culprits.

The officials told me that the mission was convinced that Fazul had escaped twice from the police in Kenya’s coastal towns and this could only have happened because police helped him escape.

The Israeli mission was itching to catch Fazul, but could not play policeman in Kenya for this is Vigilance House’s turf and call.

Again, the Israelis were making the point that if you lay a trap for such a highly prized international criminal you cannot afford to leave any loopholes through which he could slip through your fingers.

I was told that at one time police were sure they had their man cornered only for a grenade to explode unexpectedly and at a critical moment and allow Fazul to flee in the melee.

The Israeli officials told me they were convinced the grenade had been detonated deliberately by a policeman with the express intention of enabling Fazul to escape.

In other words, the Israeli mission held the very strong view that Fazul was no Houdini (escapologist), but a terror chief with Deep Throat-type (Watergate) moles in the Kenya Police.

Now in the build up to the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the US mission in Nairobi, this newspaper led the way in letting it be known that Fazul was still at large.

It also set the tone that was taken up by other media suggesting that the police have something to do with Fazul’s undeserved freedom.

Vigilance House did not respond until last week, but Kiraithe has a self-inflicted credibility challenge.

When early this year a policeman was filmed shooting a defenceless demonstrator in Kisumu, Kirathe denied the pictures seen on TV were real.

He said they had been created, faked, doctored or manipulated.

There is another reason Kenyans and Israelis would be forgiven for not believing Kiraithe. Through the ages, the most successful underworld operators have had very close ties with the police.

Alphonse Capone, the legendary and great Chicago mobster, made his money from three increasingly lucrative sources; prostitution, prohibition (bootlegging) and probability (gambling).

But, these on their own would not have raked in the millions of dollars that they did without a third and all-powerful fourth — the police.

Al Capone’s illegal businesses of the 1920 and 1930s survived because he worked in cahoots with the police.

Al Capone traded with the police. He had money and they had protection which he readily bought.

He owned the police

That is why this gangster and his business, with a weekly wage bill of $300,000, survived and thrived.

It is why Al Capone aka Scarface would boast that he owned Chicago and that he owned the police.

There is, indeed, an interesting relationship between criminals and police. For police to understand criminals better they live among them.

Criminals, say American investigators tend to live in certain known neighbourhoods.

In this scenario the difference between criminals and cops is that the one are hunted and the other are hunters, otherwise they are the same people, speaking the same language, visiting or frequenting the same places and doing virtually the same things.

The Crime and Investigation TV network last week reported that when the Hollywood movie Thief was made, known thieves and police officers were hired as consultants.

Criminals and police worked together to ensure the success of Thief!

When there is a shootout between police and criminals, the difference is that the combatants are on different sides of the law.

The question then is how quickly a policeman or policewoman can change sides? The danger, of course, is for the police to become criminals or accomplices in crime.

I cannot put my finger on a single reason that would cause Kenyan police officers to intentionally let Fazul slip through their fingers.

But I have heard it said there is no love lost between the elite Anti-terrorist Police and the regular police.

My information is that the former are the better paid officers, but they rely for their information or intelligence about suspected terrorists on the ordinary or regular officers on the ground.

But the latter are not as well paid as members of the Anti-terrorist Police squad.

The whispered word, which ought to be investigated, is that regular police officers resent the fact that they are supposed to provide intelligence to their colleagues of the Anti-terrorist Police squad who are better paid than they are.

Second, it is believed that al Qaeda cells have a lot of money to spend to keep their activities going, but it would be totally and utterly dismaying and shocking to hear that the terror group would have moles in the Kenya Police.

Should not the failure of Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities to so much as get a hint of the planning of the 1998 bombings lead to closer co-operation between the two countries in investigating and arresting terrorists and their plans?

Isn’t it time for Kenya to have a fresh look at its security apparatus and consider the creation of fully-fledged and fully funded anti-terrorist police in a reconstituted Kenya Police Service?

That the US did not stop the so-called 9/11 atrocities does not mean Kenya should not aspire to have the best intelligence network to deter terror.

Good people, this does not mean there will be no crooked cops to work with Wanugu & Co, for example.

Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant.