Kenya faces international outcry over mass transfer of "terrorists" to Ethiopia

The Nation
Deep in the night on Saturday January 27, African Express Airways aircraft registration 5Y-AXF was on the tarmac at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
A flurry of activities had been taking place around it in the pitch darkness for some time now and flight AXK 527, a flight chartered by Kenyan authorities, would soon be taking off to Mogadishu.
In the cockpit, Capt Popovic Radosav was busy checking the instruments. Seated next to him was Captain Clement Wambugu, who was also busy ensuring that everything was in order for the take-off any minute now.
If the two pilots had any misgivings about the ethical implications of transporting the sort of passengers on board, they kept them to themselves.
The fact that the motley crowd of hungry, bedraggled and sickly men, women and children in the cabin was headed for a dangerous war zone was also not a matter to give much thought to right now.
These, according to Kenyan authorities, were terror suspects, and others flown to Baidoa earlier had had to travel blind-folded, and with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. For the crew of flight AXK 527, there was an important government-sanctioned mission to accomplish, and it was all in a day’s job.
That those passengers were deemed extremely dangerous was obvious from the fact that with them in the plane were 15 security personnel with express instructions to ensure that they were transported to Mogadishu, Somalia, overnight and handed over to the authorities there.
Notable among the passengers was a lady named Halima Badrudine Hussein, later identified by human rights activists as a Comoran citizen, who was accompanied by her three children Luqmaan (15), Asma (13) and Sumaiya (4).
Halima’s crime was that she happened to be the wife of one Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a man wanted by US authorities in connection with the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, as well as the 2002 Paradise Hotel attack in Kikambala. He is still believed to be “at large”.
Not far from Halima and her family was seated a Swedish citizen named Osman Ahmed Yassin, who had earlier been detained at the Garissa and Karen police stations, and who was now being sent to Somalia together with his wife Sofia and two children, son Mohammed (three years old) and daughter Fatma, a toddler aged only 7 months.
Their rendition to Somalia would later see the Swedish Ambassador to Kenya working alongside local human rights organisations in a bid to have the family released, but according to sources the family was among those detained in Ethiopian security facilities later.
All the passengers on the flight were by now thoroughly terrified, not knowing exactly where they were headed or what their eventual fate would be. Arriving in Mogadishu, they could only believe that their fate was nigh; that notion was mistaken though, for they would later find themselves being shipped to two different detention facilities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before an international outcry drew the attention of their respective mother countries to the ordeals they had been going through.
Among the women was one Kamiliya Mohammad Al Kindi, who had been arrested in Malindi on January 10, together with two Omani nationals and their Kenyan business associate named Millie Muthoni Gakuo.
Only the day before, a declaration signed by Minister of State responsible for Immigration, Mr Gideon Konchellah, had authorised her immediate deportation to Somalia, which it wrongly stated was her country of origin. In that declaration, a copy of which the Sunday Nation has been able to obtain, Kamiliya was actually described as a man, a mistake repeated on the manifest of flight AXK 527 that was now about to take off.
Days earlier, efforts had been made to deport her to Tanzania, which was given on her passport as her place of birth. The Tanzanian immigration authorities at Namanga had however noted that she was a citizen of the United Arab Emirates and had a passport from that country. They had therefore adamantly declined to allow her deportation to Tanzania.
Ms Kamiliya had been arrested together with her boss, a member of the royal family in the Sultanate of Oman named Ahmad Musallam Al–Ma’ashani, and Hassan Salim Kashub, a policeman from Oman attached to Interpol in that country, who was serving as his bodyguard. The arrest of the two men had soon come to the notice of the Honorary Consulate of the Sultanate of Oman in Nairobi.
The Consulate, in a protest letter to the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated January 22, pointed out that the Omani businessman was actually a relative of the Omani Minister of State, Sheikh Salim Al Maashani, while Mr Kashub was a senior police officer of the Royal Oman Police. Kenya quietly put the two on a flight back home.
More pressure was being brought to bear within a month of the mass rendition of January 27. A suit filed in the High Court by the Muslim Human Rights Forum (Muhuri) resulted in the Attorney General filing a replying affidavit sworn by one Zack Tum, an Assistant Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Director of Operations at CID headquarters, who had been in-charge of the group of security officers that had been aboard the Mogadishu flight on January 27.
According to two officials of Muhuri interviewed by the Sunday Nation, Mr Al-Amin Kimathi and Mr Omar Mohamed, the aim of that affidavit was to prove that the people who had been transported to Somalia were actually out of the jurisdiction of the Kenya government, which by that time was already facing pressure from international human rights groups demanding the truth about the secret renditions to Somalia.
Then the UK-based Reprieve and Cageprisoners, in a report dated March 22, documented the fact that there had been two earlier rendition flights on January 20 and February 10, also to Mogadishu.
The Sunday Nation was able to obtain the passenger manifests of the two flights — flight XU 527 of African Express Airways aircraft registration 5Y AXD and the second on a Bluebird Aviation aircraft, registration 5Y UUP.
The passengers on those flights , had been arriving at the airport for a good part of the evening of Friday 9 February in police vehicles, and were all blindfolded, with their arms firmly handcuffed behind their backs, so that they could hardly sit up straight. In the event of an emergency during the flight, they would have been totally helpless.
In particular peril was Ines Chine, a 26-year-old Tunisian lady, who was on the flight together with her husband, one Adnan Najah. Now eight months pregnant, she had during her arrest weeks earlier been shot by the police, and still had a bullet lodged in her spine, having been denied medical attention by Kenyan security personnel, according to officials of the Muslim Human Rights Forum.
In all, at least 96 prisoners were renditioned from Kenya within days. The New York-based Human Rights Watch says it does not know what has become of 55 of these individuals — the difference between the number expelled from Kenya and the number (41) the Ethiopians claim to be holding.
Kenyan citizens were among those 96 detainees, HRW says, but it does not know if Kenyans are included among the 41 foreign nationals from 17 countries that the Ethiopians now say they are holding.
There’s no doubt that Kenyans and Americans have collaborated on interrogations of at least some of those detained in Kenya prior to being sent back to Somalia — and probably then rendered to Ethiopia.
The US acknowledges, for example, that its agents questioned an American citizen, Amir Mohamed Meshal, who had been detained by the Kenyans in late January after entering from Somalia. He was brought before a military tribunal in Ethiopia on Friday.
In addition, a 17-year-old Swede, Safia Benaouda, told a Swedish newspaper on Thursday that three US uniformed personnel were directing the Kenyan forces that took her into custody on the border on January 18.
“After the American soldiers had detained us they kept in the background, but it was very clear that they were the ones in charge,” Benaouda, who was freed from an Ethiopian prison March 27, was quoted as saying in an article published Thursday in the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet.
The Sunday Nation has managed to obtain first-hand accounts of some of the passengers on the flight, who described the conditions in which they were held, both in Nairobi and Baidoa, as inhospitable and dangerous.
According to one British national who was on the flight, prior to the take-off a Kenyan security official at Wilson Airport had talked to the captives about pre-destination and tried to absolve himself of personal guilt by telling them: “Whatever happens to you, just understand why this is taking place”. Regarding the detention conditions in Somalia, a British national later recalled:
“We all filed down into an underground cell. It was pitch black. There were water bottles down there to pee into. The floor was dusty and dirty. There were rats and cockroaches. It did not smell good. Where the bottles were it smelled like a very dirty toilet. All of us who had been on the plane except the Tunisian Adnan’s wife stayed in that cell?”
Home districts

According to Reprieve and Cageprisoners, the renditions to Somalia and Ethiopia involved nationals of at least 16 states. Apart from the many foreign nationals, officials of the Muslim Human Rights Forum interviewed claimed that they had proof that at least 25 Kenyan citizens had also been flown out of the country and handed over to Somalia.
To back their claims, they produced a list of 25 names of the alleged Kenyans, as well as a document with details of identification papers showing their citizenship as well as pointing out their home districts, in addition to naming their next of kin. The document also gives details of where and when they were arrested in Kenya and the dates when they were flown out.
Among the most publicised cases was that of one Mohamed Abdulmalik, who is alleged to have been sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In a press release issued by the Kenya Human Rights Network on Wednesday March 28, it was alleged that he had been in police custody in Kenya “since about February 20, 2007”. Al-Amin Kimathi and Omar Mohammed, both officials of the Muhuri said they had actually been able to talk to Abdulmalik for a few minutes on Saturday February 24, when they traced him to Hardy police station in Karen.
According to them, he had at first been detained at the Ongata Rongai Police Station, and after their talking to him at Hardy Police Station he was hurriedly moved to a secret location, before eventually being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
The same officials told this writer that they had proof that Abdulmalik is actually a Kenyan who was born in 1972 in Nyanza province, to a Swahili father and a Kikuyu mother. The Kenya Human Rights Network actually identified two of his siblings at a press conference held on Wednesday last week.
The siblings – brother Salim Juma Hamis Mohammed and sister Mariam – are small-time traders at Gikomba market, where they deal in second-hand shoes. According to them, they were brought up in Nyang’ori in Nyanza, and their brother attended primary school in Kisumu up to class 4 before moving to Tudor primary school in Mombasa, where he completed his primary education.
Abdulmalik had in recent times been working as a religious teacher at the Msaji Madrassa in Majengo, Mombasa, said Muhuri officials.
In Addis Ababa, the authorities detained them in two major facilities where four British nationals released later reported they were subjected to torture. One of them also talked about threats during interrogations in Nairobi by FBI operatives, which sometimes bordered on blasphemy. He told human rights activists that Meshal had been thoroughly traumatised by the interrogations:
“I was in that police station (Kileleshwa) and the Egyptian American was brought in by the FBI. He told me that they had taken him to the top floor of a hotel. They had said to him, ‘You know Allah is up there. We are the FBI and we’re on the same level’ they said to him, ‘You are going to start getting tortured from tomorrow if you don’t start coughing up information.”’
Kenyan Muslim leaders have in the meantime been up in arms against what they view as gross mistreatment of their followers by security agents in recent times. According to Prof Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, the renditions should not only be seen as an issue affecting Muslims alone, and must instead be seen as blatant abuse of Kenyan citizens’ basic human rights.
“What has been going on for the last few months is wrong, whether those shipped out of Kenya are Kenyan citizens or not,” he told the Sunday Nation in an interview last week. “It is the duty of the country’s courts to determine who is guilty of an offence like terrorism, and definitely not the duty of the Immigration department or the police.”
By Tuesday last week, the issue of the Guantanamo transfer was in the Kenyan Parliament.
In what was described as a “charged House,” members were reluctant to accept the explanations about Mohamed Abdulmalik’s case that were proffered by Internal Security Assistant Minister Peter Munya, who like the American ambassador described the man as “an international terrorist, a man of dubious nationality,” who had allegedly participated in the bombing of the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala in 2002.
Several MPs demanded the repatriation of 24 Kenyans who had allegedly been irregularly flown to Somalia. But Immigration Minister Gideon Konchellah was insistent that no Kenyans had been sent to Somalia.
The denials in Parliament provoked the Kenya Human Rights Network to call another press conference last Thursday, during which the government was thoroughly castigated for its official denials, which flew in the face of overwhelming evidence that Kenyans were indeed among those affected by the renditions.
For instance, on Thursday afternoon this writer managed to speak to a man who said he was the uncle of one of the captives renditioned to Somalia on the flight of 27 January.
Mr Salmin Bwanaheri Bwana Mkuu said he had known the detainee, whose name appears as Saidi Hamisi in the manifest of that flight, since the latter was a child. “He was actually born 32 years ago at Mwandoni in Kisauni, near the Nyali Police Station in Mombasa,” he said.
Elsewhere, the Ethiopian authorities early this week succumbed to international pressure and finally admitted holding some of the suspects expelled from Kenya: “Pursuant to a common understanding between Ethiopia and the (Transitional Federal Government in Somalia) some of those who have been captured have indeed been brought over to Ethiopia.
Their number is 41,” said their statement. It added that 29 of them were slated for release and that five foreign nationals from among that number had already been released.
They were from Tanzania, Sudan, Denmark, UAE (apparently Kamiliya, renditioned from Kenya) and Sweden. More will be freed in due course, the statement added.
Whether there will be Kenyan citizens among those released remains to be seen. Should that be the case, Kenyan authorities will be forced to eat extremely humble pie, given their repeated denials that Kenyans were among those renditioned.

Additional reporting by Kevin J. Kelley in New York

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