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20.06.2019 Kenya

Three found guilty of abetting Kenya's Garissa attackers

By Christina Okello - RFI
REUTERS/Baz Ratner
JUN 20, 2019 KENYA

Four years after an attack on Kenya's Garrisa University that left 148 people dead, a Nairobi court, Wednesday,ruled that three of the four suspects were guilty. The announcement, postponed several times, has exposed the flaws in Kenya's judicial process. Sentencing will be handed down on 3 July.

Nairobi Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi found Hassan Aden Hassan, Mohamed Ali Abdikar and Rashid Charles Mberesero guilty of abetting Somali jihadists in the 2015 attack on Garissa University in northeast Kenya.

The fourth suspect Sahal Diriye Hussein was aquitted due to lack of evidence.

The attack left at least 148 people dead, including two soldiers from Kenya's Defence Forces.

Byron Adera, a former army commander, describes how he felt at the time.

"Of course anger at the direct attacks on very soft targets," he told RFI. "This was a learning institution where very many lives were lost in a senseless way."

The Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab claimed responsibility, saying it was retaliating for Kenya's military involvement in Somalia.

The Somali extremist group had already targeted Kenya in the past. The worst of the attacks in Nairobi took place in 2013 at the Westgate mall, killing 67 people.

And then there was the one targeting the United States Embassy in 1998 where over 200 people were killed.

No lessons learnt
Yet, despite the country's tragic experience of terror, Adera says it had become complacent, denouncing Nairobi's lack of preparedness.

"The lessons that were learnt over time since the war on terror actually began, did not look like they were taken care of," he said.

"People did not appreciate the threat that terror had caused or still posed and in a way they became more and more exposed."

In the aftermath of the attack, one of the worst on Kenyan soil, stories emerged reporting how students were lured to their deaths by the sweet-talk of Al Shabab terrorists.

"They would use religious undertones to tell them [students] that we do not kill this particular group of people and so just come down, and students went," commented Adera. 

Al Shabab separated Muslim and Christian students, killing and taking the Christians hostage.

The four suspects are said to have been in constant communication with the attackers, although have always denied the 156 counts against them.

Underground terror cells
The shock of Garissa was even worse after reports emerged showing that Kenyan authorities had known about the attack a week in advance, and yet did nothing to stop it. 

"We now know that there were terror cells in Garissa that were priming themselves for an attack, but this information did not get to the right people at the right time," says Adera.

That has now changed.
"There's been a great improvement in terms of intelligence gathering," says Adera, referring to the appointment of a former army chief to head the military intelligence.

Despite this improved capacity by security forces to foil and deter terror attacks, Al Shabab has continued to strike.

Last Saturday, eight Kenyan police officers were killed after their vehicle was struck by an explosive device near the border with Somalia, again claimed by Al Shabab militants.

Failed justice
In January this year, more than 20 people were killed in an attack on the luxury Dusit D2 hotel, in the Nairobi capital.

The Dusit attack came a day after the terror suspects involved in the 2013 assault on Westgate mall were acquitted. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the judiciary's failure to convict high-profile suspects, often due to lack of evidence.

"Dusit D2 came a day after these guys were acquitted. It's something that discourages the general public," comments Adera. 

"They're looking at this space and they're wondering what happened. These are guys who butchered several people and whose activities led to loss of life of individuals and pointless destruction of property," said Adera, calling for a severe judgment.

Wednesday's ruling may bolster the work of advocates fighting the war on terror, but Adera argues the right legal framework needs to first be put in place.

Because while a significant number of people have been convicted upon trial, there are still many terror suspects that end up being acquitted.

To rectify this, a harsh sentence on 3 July would be "a step in the right direction," he said. 

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