Kenyan terror attack account questioned

Police patrol outside a Mombasa police station on September 11 following an alleged knife and firebomb attack by three young women who were later shot dead . PHOTO: AFP STRINGER
Police patrol outside a Mombasa police station on September 11 following an alleged knife and firebomb attack by three young women who were later shot dead . PHOTO: AFP STRINGER

On a Sunday morning in September three young women were killed by officers at the main police station in Kenya's second city - but that's the only fact beyond doubt in a case that activists say is further evidence of a police force gone rogue.

In the official version of events, police thwarted an attempted terrorist attack on September 11 when the women - who they say recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group - entered Mombasa Central Police Station armed with a knife, a petrol bomb and a suicide vest.

It said vigilant officers fired on them while one of the attackers was burnt almost beyond recognition by her incendiary device. Subsequently, seven alleged conspirators have been rounded up.

But two separate human rights groups working independently pieced together a different story.

In actual fact, they said, the three girls went to report a stolen phone, fought back when male officers attempted to forcibly remove the hijab of one, and were all then shot dead and at least one set alight to lend credence to the cover-up story.

There were no weapons, they say, no suicide vest, no terrorist plot and no conspirators.

The contradictory reports have triggered a "full-scale investigation" by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, said the watchdog's chairman Macharia Njeru. The investigation can lead to criminal prosecution, disciplinary action or exoneration for the officers involved.

"Police in Kenya concoct stories to justify killing people. They use 'terrorism' to justify all manner of killings," said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch - a New York-based advocacy organisation.


"There are so many unanswered questions. P olice look like they are struggling to cook a story."

That impression was strengthened by two ugly video clips filmed on the day. One clip shows two of the girls lying on the ground outside the police station.

They are Maimuna Abdirahman Hussein, 22, and Tasmin Abdullah Farah, the alleged "mastermind".

One sits with her right arm in the air before collapsing next to the prone body beside her and rolling onto her back.

Over the next two minutes at least two armed officers take turns firing seven shots at the girls.

The second clip, allegedly filmed inside the police station, shows a horribly burned woman - Ramla Abdirahman Hussein, aged 19 and the sister of Maimuna - lying on the floor, moaning as police question her.

Khelef Khalifa, chairman of the Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights group said the call to prayer that can be heard in the clip as the woman lay dying shows she was left without medical assistance for two hours.

"We see this as extra-judicial killing. A dead person does not talk," he said.


Khalifa pointed out that if the young women were terrorists as police claim, they could have been arrested instead. He also questioned the plausibility of the alleged plot.

"It is mind-boggling! Three ladies go and attack a police station with a knife? These girls cannot even steal in my house let alone a police station," he said.

On Friday a government pathologist postponed indefinitely a scheduled postmortem of the two sisters, and the following day the bodies were buried.

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