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Kenya police our greatest threat in fighting terror

Saturday December 31 2011



The biggest threat facing the fight against Al-Shabaab and other terrorist organisations in the country is ironically our security agents, especially the Kenya Police and the National Security Intelligence Service.

For the Kenya Police, Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda terrorism suspects are either a play station game or another avenue to extort from innocent Kenyans or needlessly terrorise them.

When I saw the recent police alert and solicitation for information from the Kenyan Police stating that one Hussein Nderito and Sylvester Owino Opiyo are wanted Al-Shabaab terrorists, I, like most Kenyans, imagined two deadly wired jihadist terrorists on the loose wanting to inflict maximum damage during the festive season.

I prayed like many other Kenyans did that they be quickly apprehended before they cause harm to innocent Kenyans.

A few hours later, the two suspects accompanied by their lawyer, Mr Chacha Mwita, surrendered to the police and wondered what the fuss was all about.

The police took the suspects into custody and released them without charging them in court. This sad episode brought to my mind a client I represented five years ago.

Following a bomb blast near Ambassadeur Hotel on Moi Avenue, the artistic impression of my client as the terrorist behind the blast was widely circulated in the newspapers.

The police declared he was the person behind the bomb blast and was a known Al-Qaeda terrorist.

A day later, the Kenya Police published his photograph in the newspapers. The police warned the public to be vigilant and report the whereabouts of the suspect.

The Police Spokesman, Mr Eric Kiraithe, endlessly spoke on the grave dangers the suspect posed to innocent Kenyans.

Two days after his photograph was published, the suspect came to my office partially hiding his face so that the public could not recognise him.

We drove straight to the police headquarters and handed him over to Mr Kiraithe.

The police took him into custody. My client was not charged with any criminal offence and was released without a word.

We later learnt that, indeed, the Kenya Police had no idea what they were doing or even who my client really was.

The police were embarrassed by the events and I, for one, realised that our security agents are incompetent beyond imagination on some issues.

Back to the issue of Nderito and Opiyo. This episode raises a very worrying trend in the security apparatus of the State.

It is quite obvious that the police can unilaterally designate innocent Kenyans “most wanted terrorists” without a shred of evidence!

It also seems that such alerts and designations are made either during the festive seasons or when an incident occurs.

These reckless statements and random designation of Kenyans as terrorists raise a number of problematic issues. They creates fear in the short term.

By giving the names of individuals and their photographs, they create the false impression that due to advanced surveillance, they even know who the suspects are.

But, as we have seen in the Nderito-Opiyo case, the information and pictures were obtained from their court files. The suspects were already facing some criminal charges in court!

In the long term, Kenyans will not believe what the police tell them next time. Since the police have lost all credibility with regards to terrorists, the next alert and alarm will be dismissed as another crying of the wolf.

The conduct of the police vis a vis the rights of the suspects is another grave matter.

Suppose Kenyans, believing the veracity of the alert issued by the police, took the law into their hands and killed Nderito and Opiyo?

Lastly, even though these are in the pipeline, the conduct of the police shows the need to urgently fast-track police reforms. This is a force on the deathbed and in need of emergency reforms.

The writer is the publisher, Nairobi Law Monthly, [email protected]