Published On: Sun, Aug 7th, 2016

Kenya: Al-Shabaab planning to recruit frustrated officers

The revelation of a suspected terror attack targeting the General Service Unit’s Recce headquarters on Thursday by one of its deserted commandoes is raising fears of possible radicalisation and indiscipline among police officers, which could spell doom for the war on terror and insecurity.

The Nation has established that there is a high staff turnover at various police units due to job-related frustrations and experts say that al- Shaabab could be targeting to recruit the frustrated officers.

While the whereabouts of the former Recce squad member Eric Ng’ethe, Officer No 97861, are still unknown, suspicion that a member of the highly-trained elite unit could be an al-Shabaab sympathiser has heightened fears of the existence of terror cells within the service.
Three AK-47 rifles, 178 rounds of ammunition and nine rifle magazines believed to belong to him and which police suspect were to be used to attack the Recce headquarters were found at a river bank near Thome Primary School in Kiambu. Police found literature in his house that suggested that he may have been radicalised.

The scary reality is that the unit which the officer was attached to is the one charged with protecting VIPs including the president and his deputy.

“These are the people we have entrusted with our lives but instead of protecting us they are turning against one another and against us. It is a disaster in waiting,” says Major (Rtd) Bashir Abdullahi, a security expert.

On Friday, the military was deployed to man roadblocks in some pockets of North Eastern and Coast regions after it emerged that Al-Shaabab cells in Isiolo may be planning an attack on Kenyan and British Army installations.
We have established that the warning from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) also indicated that the terror group was planning to attack tourist lodges and hotels in the Meru, Isiolo and Samburu game parks.

The terror group has not succeeded in carrying out a terror attack since the massacre of 147 Garissa University College students in April last year, due to heightened counter-terrorism efforts.

INTELLIGENCE LEVELS

The government has been stepping up intelligence levels, enlarging the number of uniformed officers, modernising its artillery while increasing the use of technology in the war against crime and terror with considerable success.

According to government statistics, the number of police officers stands at 42,000, just 10,000 short of the United Nations requirement of one officer for every 400 citizens. The budgetary allocation for the Interior ministry has been increased to Sh98 billion in order to complete the ongoing police modernisation programme.

Nevertheless, despite these moves to transform the Service, there is concern that the welfare of the officers is not taken into account which has led to frustration among some officers and which may be the reason behind cases of indiscipline and bizarre occurrences including suicides among officers.

“The police leadership has refused to change and even as it projects an image of transforming the police force, the reality is that it is business as usual and the officers below them are a very frustrated lot,” says Macharia Njeru, the chair of Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA).

In June, two police bosses were shot dead by their juniors within the same week after disagreemets. In the first case Kericho Chief Inspector Julius Mugambi was shot by his driver after they disagreed while the Muthithi OCS, Chief Inspector Henry Odongo, was shot five times by an officer at the station for taking disciplinary action against him for showing up to work drunk.

“There is a huge disconnect between the foot soldier and the commanders and this is what is coming to light,” says Bashir.

He says: “Some officers have concerns but their immediate commanders do not show concern and when the issues take too long to be addressed, they will obviously boil over and this is what we are seeing”.

A fortnight ago, there was drama at the Lang’ata Police Station when a former officer undressed and wore sacks while seeking audience with Police Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet.

And last week, IPOA protested the harassment of its officer in Kayole by area OCPD Ali Nuno who brandished a gun at him and locked him up.

While the harassment of IPOA officers by the police is not new, of concern is the fact that the authority mandated to provide oversight to the police alleges that Mr Ali did not surrender allowances paid to some of his junior officers who worked during US President Barack Obama’s visit in July last year.

ALLOWANCE NON-PAYMENT

Recently, more than 200 AP officers who were part of the Madaraka Day celebrations parade in Nakuru refused to return to their camp in Embakasi over non-payment of their allowances by the seniors whom they claimed had retained at least Sh30,000 owed to each one of them as night allowance for the two weeks they were there.

Kenya’s officers are known for their strict discipline and protocol but the protest was a great embarrassment after Nakuru County AP Commander Francis Kiraithe was forced to flee in front of cameras when he tried to convince the officers to board a lorry and head back to Nairobi.

But instead of sorting out the matter, it later emerged that their bosses, who were not too happy that the incident had been covered by the media, launched investigations to identify who leaked the story to the press.

It is such issues that arms and security expert James Ndung’u says could be pushing officers to the other side of the law, making them vulnerable to terror groups like the Al-Shaabab.

“While you cannot exactly say that the force has been infiltrated by Al- Shaabab, one of the tactics the terror group has used for a long time is targeting those who are frustrated and when you have a notable percentage of officers with low morale, there is reason to worry,” he says.

“In Somalia, they have managed to infiltrate the military because the government there has not been paying its soldiers promptly so there is a possibility they are using the same tactic here because our police officers have their grievances which are not being addressed,” he says.
Mr Boinnet could not be reached for comment and neither of the two police spokesmen responded to claims about the existence of terrorists in the force but he recently warned “stern action will be taken against such officers”.

A month ago, a rogue officer killed seven of his colleagues in Kapenguria after a 10-hour siege.

It later emerged that the officer, Abdi Maslah, who was killed by Recce unit officers, had links to Mr Omar Okwaki, a primary school teacher who had been arrested on suspicion of radicalising his pupils and that the two had managed to create a terrorism network in Kapenguria.

He had Sh3 million in his bank account. He also wanted to resign just a year after joining the Service in 2013.

“We need to get concerned that some of our highly trained officers are leaving the force in droves. Where are they going? These are people who are trained to deal with crime and terror and they know all the tricks in the book, so the obvious answer is that they are joining the other side which pays well,” Mr Ndung’u said.

“Instead of addressing such matters, what the government is doing is filling the vacancies left behind and hoping that the problem will go,” he said.

Daily Nation

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