Antiterrorist unit 'must be cut off'

The ATPU has regularly arrested people suspected to be linked with al-Shabab, but has secured few convictions. (AP)

The ATPU has regularly arrested people suspected to be linked with al-Shabab, but has secured few convictions. (AP)

A Kenyan human rights group has called on Britain and the United States to suspend their support for anti-terror police accused of a string of disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the country.

Illegal tactics allegedly used by Kenya’s antiterrorism police unit (ATPU), which receives finance and training from Britain and the US, may be strengthening support for radical Islamists in East Africa, a report by Muslims for Human Rights concludes.

The report, titled We Are Tired of Taking You to Court, documents six years of alleged abuses in the port city of Mombasa, which has become a recruiting ground for the al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

Based on interviews with former detainees and families of victims, the dossier builds a picture of routine harassment by the police unit, as well as unlawful killings and mistreatment of suspects in custody. “These abuses are not only unlawful but [also] counterproductive,” said Jonathan Horowitz of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group funded by the financier George Soros, which ­coauthored the report. “Violent extremists use such abuses to justify violence and to recruit others.”

Kenyan authorities have denied licensing the unit to operate outside the law and claim it has thwarted a number of terror plots.
Since 2003, Kenya has received nearly $50-million from the US state department’s antiterrorism assistance fund. It has also received unspecified training, equipment and funds from the United Kingdom.

The UK foreign office said: “All our support to the ATPU is delivered in line with [government guidelines] … to mitigate human rights abuses.” It said it would challenge the unit about the allegations.

Muslims for Human Rights names 20 individuals who were under investigation by Kenya’s antiterror police and have subsequently disappeared or been murdered.

It says there is evidence to implicate the ATPU in the disappearance of Badru Mramba in November 2012. It also presents “credible allegations” that the unit used unlawful lethal force on Omar Faraj, a resident of Mombasa who was killed during an operation last year. Similar allegations have been made about extrajudicial killings by the ATPU of two more known suspects, Kassim Omollo and Salim Mohammed Nero.

The unit was set up 10 years ago in response to the 1998 embassy bombings in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and related attacks on targets in Mombasa.

Its operations have come against a backdrop of deepening radicalisation among Muslim populations in coastal Kenya, increased foreign intervention in neighbouring Somalia and terror attacks inside Kenya. The worst of these came in September when gunmen stormed the Westgate mall in Nairobi. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by al-Shabab.

The ATPU has regularly arrested suspects but has delivered very few convictions in court. The unit has been accused of the killing in August 2012 of Sheikh Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a radical imam under investigation by the United Nations and the US for links to al-Shabab.

After the Westgate attack, his unofficial successor as leader of the region’s coast’s radical community, Sheikh Ibrahim Omar Rogo, was killed in a near-identical shooting in the same area of Mombasa. Kenyan police have denied involvement in both deaths.

Abubakar Sheikh Ibrahim Shariff, another radical preacher and friend of the deceased pair, has openly accused the ATPU of the killings. “The government is murdering us,” he said, claiming that no serious effort had been made to investigate the October shooting, in which three other men also died. The sheikh denies membership of al-Shabab but supports their ­methods. He said that counter­terrorism operations were making more Kenyan Muslims agree

with him. – © Guardian News & Media 2013“All our support to the ATPU is delivered in line with [government guidelines] … to mitigate rights abuses”

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