End of the road for three fleeing terror convicts

Friday, November 19th, 2021 00:00 |
One of the thee terror convicts who escaped from Kamiti Maximum Security Prison on Monday is escorted by police officers upon arrival at the facility after they were arrested in Kitui yesterday. Photo/PD/Njenga Kungu

The three terrorism convicts escaped from Kamiti Maximum Prison on Monday were yesterday apprehended in Mwingi, Kitui County after three days on the run.

Looking haggard, exhausted and hungry, Musharraf Abdalla Akhulunga, alias Zarkarawi, Mohammed Ali Abikar and Joseph Juma Odhiambo, alias Yusuf, were captured yesterday morning in Kitubini village in Kitui County, about 200 kilometres east of Nairobi as they tried to cross over to the neighbouring Tana River County.

While Akhulunga and Abikar put up some resistance during their arrest, Odhiambo, limping and with swollen legs, perhaps as a result of many kilometres of trekking in the vast semi-arid Mwingi, meekly surrendered to police officers.

According to a witness who talked to police, the suspects had been spotted at Twambui market where they bought several packets of milk, bottled water, bread and biscuits at around 9pm on Wednesday night. 

They paid for the items in cash and disappeared.

Another shopkeeper identified them as the Kamiti escapees whose photos had been circulated in the media. The same evening, they were again sighted in Kitubini village in Mutitu, Kitui county.

Local chief Alphia Musembi said local elders had spotted the three being dropped off in the area by a matatu. They then trekked from Endau to Kalungu, a small town nearby.

The terrorists seemed not to understand the area well and at one point asked for directions to Boni forest in Lamu county, about 170km away.

The forest is one of the most dangerous areas in the country and is a convenient hideout for Al-Shabaab terrorist who have staged numerous attacks against civilians and security personnel, leaving behind a trail of deaths and serious injuries.

“They did not have luggage except one of them who was carrying a gunny bag. We became suspicious and informed our chief,” a local resident said.

Following their arrest, the three were yesterday afternoon airlifted from Mwingi to Kamiti in a police chopper. 

The helicopter ferrying them touched down at Kamiti Primary School grounds at around 4.15pm and they were handed over to a security team led by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

As the police helicopter touched down, the area was engulfed in a blinding cloud of dust and as soon as the dust settled, Nairobi regional police commander Augustine Nthumbi emerged from the chopper carrying the prized catch.

A surging crowd comprising prisons warders and their families surged forward to take photos and to get a glimpse of the terrorists.

Case to answer

In less than 10 minutes, the blindfolded men who had escaped from the same facility were whisked away, with armed officers taking strategic locations, before being returned to the very cells they had disappeared from four days ago.

For most officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, it was a clear sigh of relief, an indication that the last three days had been hell on earth for them.

Some warders were glad that the trio had been recaptured, suggesting that some of their colleagues who had been arrested were innocent.

“Finally they have been arrested. I’m happy at least some of my colleagues will not have a strong case to answer,” one of them said.

“The trio was captured in Mwingi, near the border of Kitui and Tana River counties after a massive manhunt conducted by special teams drawn from the Anti-Terror Police Unit, the DCI and other security agencies in collaboration with members of the public,” Matiang’i told journalists.

Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai said the three were captured near the border of Tana River and Mwingi, deep in the bushes.

“Our assessment is that they were moving towards Garissa and maybe finally to cross into Somalia,” he said.

Matiang’i said the short-lived escape was a vital lesson learnt in securing prisons and other correctional facilities in the country.

“What happened here was a rude awakening that there are certain lapses that we need to deal with. We have officers that we suspect failed in their duties.

We have raised the level of alertness and effected far-reaching changes. You are going to notice that we have changed the screening systems at the airports and the SGR. We are not out of the woods yet,” the CS said.

He said more officers would be deployed to boost the prison’s security, and that the Interior ministry will work with the ICT ministry to seal any loopholes that may abet such incidents in future by installing modern, technology-driven security monitoring systems.

“The reason we are here with Mucheru is because a partnership between us and the ICT ministry will immediately reconfigure the communications infrastructure of this place because there are certain lapses that got us here in the first place,” said Matiang’i.

The escapees are said to have removed a block and went through two other layers before they climbed down with a rope made from clothes and bed sheets and escaped. The trio left behind a physically challenged cellmate.

Terror activities

The DCI had placed Sh60 million bounty on the escapees’ heads. It was not clear yesterday whether any of the Kitui villagers who gave information about the convict would be considered for the cash.

Abikar was charged and convicted in 2019 over his links to Al-Shabaab and for abetting the Garissa University attack of April 2015 that left 148 people dead while Odhiambo was arrested in 2019 for trying to join the Somalia-based terrorist group.

Akhulunga was arrested in 2012 over a foiled attack on Kenya’s Parliament and charged with possessing explosives, ammunition and firearms.

Already, 13 Kenya Prisons officers have been arraigned and detectives granted more days to detain them as they conclude investigations into the escape said to have been abetted from inside.

A team of Anti-Terrorist Police Unit (ATPU) detectives is expected to grill the three, to get direct evidence, from what the suspects will say in their statements and confessions, if any.

The embarrassing escape led to the sacking of Commissioner General of Prisons Wycliffe Ogallo and President Uhuru Kenyatta immediately replaced him with Brigadier (Rtd) John Kibaso Warioba.

Ogalo was dramatically arrested at the Prisons headquarters moments after he was sacked. Also arrested were the commandant of Kamiti Prisons Charles Mutembei and his deputy.

Delayed alarm

Human frailties, elements of weather and poor timing led to the capture of the three.

According to investigating officers, had the prison authorities raised the alarm earlier the terrorists would have been captured before they made their way to Kitui.

Whereas they made their daring escape before the crack of dawn it took the prison officers almost six hours to raise the alarm which gave the men ample time to pick a matatu at the Roysambu bus stop and alight in Thika where they proceed to Kitui.

Their aim was to get to Endau forest that is on the border of Kitui and Tana River counties. 

However, when they got to Kitui, and with a manhunt declared, they decided to walk to Endau forest, a journey that led to their capture.

Using panya routes and with no access to food and water the terrorists got lost and lost energy.

They thought it wise to ask for both – shortest route to Boni and water and some food. They were shown a route taken by cattle herders to the forest but the villagers became suspicious and alerted the authorities.

They also bought some supplies they were to use on their two-day trek towards Boni forest.

From Wednesday, police officers surrounded the village and started firing in the air a move that smoked the terrorists from their hideout.

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