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Rights group faults anti-terror tactics
By Otsieno Namwaya
Nairobi, 5 August 2007 - A new report makes startling disclosures about the hitherto unknown operations by the Kenyan and foreign security forces in the ongoing crackdown on terror in the country.
The Muslim Human Rights Forum’s report accuses the Government of allowing the US, Israeli and UK soldiers to interrogate and deport terror suspects, although some have proven Kenyan citizenship and ancestry.
In the process, the rights group estimates that at least 20 Kenyans were deported to Somalia at a time when war raged and many were fleeing the country.
Another Kenyan, says the report, was eventually deported to the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba by foreign soldiers who chided, tortured and mocked the suspects that they were in a lawless country, hence had no rights worth talking about unless they confessed to links with terrorists.
Mr Abdulmalik Mohammed, a Kenyan who had been arrested in Mombasa in mid-February, was, after a month in police custody, flown to Guantanamo Bay in March.
Injustices against the suspects
The US Department of Defence later issued a statement saying Abdulmalik had admitted to being involved in 1998 terrorist attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, Mr Al-Amin Kimathi says the report, Horn of Terror, is a product of months of research and interviews with the victims, their families, friendly Kenyan security officers and eye-witnesses since last December when a combined force of Ethiopian and US soldiers routed the Islamic Courts Union from Somalia.
Muslim Human Rights Forum, says Kimathi, is a Nairobi based consortium of at least four community – based organisations, most of which work very closely with the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.
When contacted, Ms Beatrice Kamau, who has extensively researched on the cases of terror suspects in Kenya along with lawyer Mr Haroun Ndubi, corroborated the rights’ group findings. "When I interviewed suspects in the Paradise Hotel bombing, I realised they were being interrogated by American and Israeli security agents," says Ms Kamau, who was then working for the Kenya Human Rights Network.
She says the Kikambala bombing suspects would be arrested, charged and, just when the case was midway, the authorities would drop the case and prefer fresh charges.
"It was as if they were not really sure of what they were doing," she says.
She says when relatives applied for suspects to be produced in court, the Government would produce them in a court in Nairobi, which is miles away from Mombasa.
Describing what has transpired as "one of the largest episodes of extra-ordinary deportations of prisoners in the war on terror", the Muslim Human Rights Forum report has been circulated to nearly all the diplomatic missions. By circulating the report widely, the rights group would expose what it describes as injustices against the suspects.
The suspects, who are from at least 21 countries, are all said to have been arrested in January this year either as they fled the war in Somalia or simply taken from their homes.
But Police spokesman, Mr Eric Kiraithe, denied allegations in the report. "We do not have expatriates in the Kenyan police. There are all manner of groups who find it convenient to attack police for their own selfish reasons," said Kiraithe when contacted by The Sunday Standard.
The report says, so far, only a small portion of the 152 suspects it tracked has been released while the rest are still being held in Ethiopia, Somalia, US and Guantanamo Bay. It is unclear whether any of the suspects are still being held in Kenya, although the Government played a role in their capture and deportations.
"Only 37 of them may have been released with no official disclosures of the actual number and identities of those released or the captives still in custody. Worse still, the whereabouts of some of those said to have been released remains a mystery," it says.
It points at the possibility that some of the suspects could already be facing undisclosed charges before a military court of a country whose identity is yet to be established.
Out of the 37 said to have been released, says the report, 30 were either released in Kenya or repatriated to their home countries, four were charged in court while the rest are yet to be accounted for. The other 117 were first taken to Somalia and later to Ethiopia on diverse dates in January and February this year, although the Ethiopian government has only acknowledged receiving 41 ‘suspected terrorists’.
A violation of international law
But the human rights organisation says it is now perturbed by the fact that the whereabouts of these so-called terror suspects remains unknown, as only a few are still being held in Ethiopia.
The fate of most of those being held by the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia is also unknown.
"We are most dismayed by the conduct of the Kenya Government, which is in disregard of the national and international law such as denial of due process to the captives, denial of basic rights such as access to legal counsel, consular representation, family, doctors or international monitors, holding most of them, including children and expectant women, incommunicado and beyond the legally permissible period before rendering them to countries where they feared harm," says the report.
It says the Government allowed US forces to launch aerial strikes against the Islamic Courts Union from Kenyan soil and later gave active support to both the US and Ethiopian intelligence in the raging war in Somalia.
"Those who crossed the border to Kenya were rounded up, put on trucks and dumped inside Somalia. Close to 200 were detained by police at the border before eventually being airlifted to Nairobi. It is from these captives that extra-ordinary deportations took place," says the report.
The suspects, it says, were shuffled, blindfolded and shackled, mostly at night, from one police station to another in Garissa, Nairobi, Malindi and Mombasa.
The suspects were interrogated by US security agents, who were in charge of the exercise.
And, going by the flight manifests produced in court during an application requiring Government to produce 85 of the suspects in court, senior Kenyan police officers would then be left by US soldiers to escort deportees to either Ethiopia or Somalia.
"The veil of secrecy, the silence and denials without giving full, frank and public disclosures may have, at worse, aided in the disappearance of an unknown number of people and, in the least, brought about so much confusion and anxiety," says the report, which says at least 70 suspects are missing.
It is not known how many members of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) arrested in Moyale and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) arrested in Mandera were deported to Ethiopia, the country from which they were fleeing.
This, says the report, is in violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of victims of war, as OLF and ONLF are known rebel movements against the Ethiopian government.
The human rights forum says it has proof that at least 100 suspected OLF and ONLF insurgents were handed over to the Ethiopian government.
Of these, it says, at least 18 were people with proven Kenyan identity and ancestry. It says this information has been given to the Kenyan Government, which had all along been asking for it, and now the suspects risk being left stateless.
Eight detainees; five of them Kenyans, were said to have been released from Addis Ababa early this month and handed to the Kenyan authorities at Moyale border.
While two Tanzanians were returned home and eventually set free, the whereabouts of the Kenyans is not known, as they neither reached home nor did the Kenya Government officially acknowledge receiving them.
The eighth suspect was a Rwandese national, Ibrahim Clement Muhibitabo, who was registered in Kenya as a refugee and lived in Nairobi with his wife and three children.
"He was promptly jailed on being returned to Rwanda, the country he had fled. Fears that he could be harmed were very real," says the report.
It says a similar fate, or worse, could have met the Eritreans, the Oromos and the Ogadenis who were handed to the Ethiopian authorities.
Source: The Standard