Anti-terror police turn to social media to catch suspects

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Police arrest terror suspects at the Likoni crossing channel in Mombasa on August 23, 2021.

The Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) is scrutinising activities on the social media platform Telegram, which is emerging as a recruitment forum luring young Kenyans to join terrorist groups.

Documents obtained show that Al-Shabaab and Islamic State (Isis) recruiters are now using Telegram to draw youths into the groups.

The revelations followed the arrests of two people, including a Tanzanian national, after ATPU officers raided a group organising on Telegram and seized articles used for recruiting young people to join the terror groups.

Mr Rajabu Mwinyihamisi Hamza and Mr Iqram Ramadhan Rashid were found to be members of a Telegram group called Khalifa Tul Umah, with membership in Somalia, Tanzania, Congo, Mozambique and Kenya.

Documents show that Khalifa Tul Umah and its members are connected to Isis.

“Based on intelligence reports, the said group – Khalifa Tul Umah – largely posts radicalisation materials and other articles that evidence an interest in extreme ideology and recruitment,” ATPU officer Bryzon Wafula said in the documents.

Mr Hamza and Mr Rashid were yesterday presented before Mombasa Senior Resident Magistrate Vincent Adet, who allowed the ATPU to detain them for two weeks.

Intelligence also reveals that Mr Rashid left Dar es Salam on November 5, arrived in Kenya the same day and linked up with Mr Hamza at his house in Msambweni, Kwale County. 

The two met via the Telegram group and linked up before Mr Rashid travelled to Kenya.

Mr Rashid was to travel to Kenya and link up with his friend in Kwale before going to Somalia.

But the two were arrested on November 6 en route to Somalia to allegedly join Al-Shabaab fighters.

“Rashid has no fixed place of abode and is likely to flee the country if released. I am also following intelligence reports to make more arrests of other suspects who are within and outside Mombasa,” Mr Wafula said.

Identification documents and other items seized from the two suspects were forwarded to the National Registration Bureau and the Tanzanian Embassy for verification and authentication.

The suspects’ mobile phones were also sent to the ATPU headquarters for analysis.

Relying on the police documents, State Counsel Hillary Isiaho asked that the two be detained to allow the ATPU to ascertain their age.

“The investigations team is yet to receive call data records, M-Pesa statements and other relevant communication from mobile service providers,” Mr Isiaho said.

The two are being investigated for being members of a terrorist group and being in possession of articles connected with the commission of a terrorist act.

Investigators believe that a forensic analysis of their mobile phones could shed more light on the people who recruited them.

The prosecutor told the court that the ATPU is on high alert and has intensified investigations to arrest more suspects.

Kwale, where the suspects had teamed up before seeking to travel to Somalia, is said to be home to terror cells that recruit youths and radicalise them.

Security sources revealed that the terror cells are run by Al-Shabaab returnees from Somalia, who were last year linked to a spate of assassinations of government officials and attacks on petrol stations in Ukunda.

The returnees, who fled from mistreatment by their colleagues at operation bases in Somalia, killed village elders and local government officers perceived to be working with security agencies on counter-terrorism.

Security sources say hundreds of youths from several villages in Kwale have joined Al-Shabaab after being recruited by people well known to them.

The youths include nine from Burani village and others from Mlungunipa, Mwamanga, Mbuwani, Kigoti, Shamu and Tiribe.

Mr Hamza and Mr Rashid are detained at the Port Police Station and police investigate their activities.

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