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From African Bush To Scotland Yard - The Murder Trail That Led To Al-Qaida
Rosie Cowan, crime correspondent
London, UK, November 15, 2005 (The Guardian) – In their 60s, when most people are contemplating putting their feet up, Dick and Enid Eyeington, a couple who had already given almost 40 years of their lives to Africa, took on their biggest challenge to date: running a boarding school in a remote part of the republic of Somaliland.
Within two years they were dead, shot in their living room as they watched the evening news. But this was no robbery or local row. Instead, the murders turned out to be part of a terror campaign by Islamic fundamentalist militia fighters with links to al-Qaida.
Yesterday, a court sentenced eight men to death for murdering the Eyeingtons in October 2003 and killing a Kenyan woman in 2004. Seven others got life terms. All were found guilty of terrorism and banditry.
When the verdicts were announced many defendants protested. Some started quoting verses from the Koran. "We should not be killed for assassinating infidels," some of them shouted.
The murder story began when the couple took on one last project in Africa , restoring a derelict school in an isolated spot near Sheikh, a three-hour drive from the capital, Hargeysa. It was a two-year contract but the couple reckoned they would need four years to establish the school, which had fallen into disrepair during the civil war when Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991.
The Eyeingtons worked hard, doing everything from clearing the drains to ordering cooking utensils and material for uniforms, and the school opened with 50 pupils in January 2002. Another 50 arrived in September 2003.
A month later, after visiting friends nearby they returned to their small house in the grounds to watch the news as they did every evening. It was a stormy night and nobody heard shots. The next morning, their cleaner discovered their bodies - still sitting in their chairs in the lounge, both shot through the head. There was no discernible motive. There was no robbery and police suspicions of locals bearing a grudge did not ring true. The murders bore the hallmarks of a professional assassination.
In the short time they had been there, the Eyeingtons won the love and respect of pupils, staff and neighbors. When the head of SOS Children's Villages visited shortly after the murders, he described the sight of thousands of local people lining his route from the village to the school, standing in silence, their hands on their heads as a sign of sorrow.
The police arrested several local men, including one of the Eyeingtons' security guards. But while they languished in custody for months, no charges were brought and the investigation stalled.
Then, in March 2004, a vehicle from the German aid agency, GTZ, was ambushed. A Kenyan, Flora Cheruiyot, was shot dead and her German boyfriend, Harald Hinkler, was seriously injured.
Villagers on the border blocked the five gunmen's escape and they were handed over to police. One of the accused claimed there was a link with the Eyeington murders, and with the killing of an Italian nun, Annelena Tonelli, on October 5 2003 , and two robberies.
Jama Ismail, the alleged leader of the cell which shot Cheruiyot, had carried out a scouting visit to the school a month before the murders, posing as a Saudi businessman. The authorities now believe the foreign aid workers were targeted by al-Qaida-backed terrorists, who want to eradicate western Christian influences from Muslim Somaliland.
The International Crisis Group, an independent conflict-resolving organization, says veterans of a local Somaliland terror group, al-Itihaad al-Islaami, have been absorbed into this new jihadi network, headed by Aden Hashi 'Ayro, a young leader trained in Afghanistan .
But Metropolitan police officers liaising with the Eyeington family and helping the Somaliland police, as is customary in murders of British citizens abroad, met a brick wall. Met forensic experts visited the crime scene in March 2004. Ballistic tests established that both the Eyeingtons were killed by shots from a single AK47 gun. Six or seven shots were fired, one of which passed through Mrs. Eyeington's head and struck her husband. A bullet fragment in her skull bears marks which would link it to a particular weapon, as would the spent bullet cases. Local police seized two AK47s when they made the initial arrests, but neither proved to be the murder weapon.
The crime scene had not been preserved and the Somaliland police could not carry out basic forensic tests, such as swabbing the windowsill for fingerprints. The Met planned to return to Somaliland in the autumn of 2004 but the trip was cancelled because of rising violence in the region.
This January, Detective Chief Inspector Jill Bailey took over the case, determined to find some answers. She lobbied Scotland Yard bosses, the Foreign Office and the Somaliland authorities and got permission for a visit - as long as she combined it with a training course for the local police. The team set off in March with nine crates of fingerprinting kits, exhibit bags and other equipment, to teach 30 Somaliland officers the basics of crime scene preservation and retrieval, as well as examining all the evidence for the Eyeington murders, and meeting many of those involved. The Met team helped assess the evidence and assisted with analysis of phone records, adding weight to the case that the murders and other crimes were the work of a coherent terrorist network. Amid massive security, the trial has taken place in fits and starts.
A cage was built to stop defendants escaping. Other suspects were tried in absentia and the Somaliland authorities are still seeking others they think masterminded the campaign. The verdict was postponed amid fears that terrorists would use it as a focus to disrupt elections on September 29.
Although the Eyeingtons' daughter, Louise, a 36-year-old barrister, feels a sense of closure with yesterday's verdict, she is upset about the death sentences. Her parents were vehemently opposed to the punishment, and she is sad that her parents' lives, and those of their killers, should end like this.
Profile: Dick and Enid Eyeington
'They adored the place'
A mug bearing a picture of Nelson Mandela sits in the bathroom of Louise Eyeington's neat terraced home in Tooting, south London , a modest reminder of her parents' achievements.
In 1963, newly qualified teacher Dick Eyeington, a miner's son from Co Durham, married his childhood sweetheart, Enid, a nurse, and moved to Tanzania on a three-year contract. It was the start of a life-long love affair with Africa . The couple returned for a few years in the late 1960s, but by 1971 they were back, this time in Swaziland , their home for the next 30 years. They established themselves at Waterford Kamhlaba, a multiracial secondary school renowned as a beacon of liberalism during apartheid.
Mr. Eyeington was a geography teacher and later headmaster, while Mrs. Eyeington split her time between nursing, caring for HIV/Aids sufferers and working with the community.
The couple were passionate anti-apartheid campaigners, and among Mr. Eyeington's pupils were Nelson Mandela's three daughters, Archbishop Desmond Tutu's children, and the future Swazi king, Mswati III.
Louise, who was brought up in Swaziland, with her brother, Mark, 40, who also taught at Waterford, says her parents loved Africa and were far from shy about asking for funds for the projects. "They adored the place and the people. They had a great belief that education could help build equality and end poverty.
"Dad buttonholed everyone he met. Lord Attenborough visited the school when he was in South Africa , making Cry Freedom [the story of black activist Steve Biko] and he ended up becoming a trustee and a close friend of my parents."