FBI agents investigating the Westgate Mall terror attack in Nairobi raided a home in Kitui town and arrested a 24-year-old female university student last weekend.
The arrest of the second-year student at Pwani University, suspected to be the girlfriend of one of the terror suspects, caused a stir in sleepy Mosquito estate as the detectives went door to door searching for her.
The student, Amina Ramadhan, had been in Kitui town for five days after travelling from Mombasa to visit family friends but ended up in custody on suspicions of involvement in terror activities.
The FBI agents were accompanied by Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) officers from Nairobi and Kitui CID officers who provided back-up during the arrest. The United States offered assistance in investigating the Westgate attack and detailed detectives to team up with Kenyan counterparts in the hunt.
The student was seized at the home of Mrs Rehema Ali, a guardian and family friend.
According to Mrs Ali, the family was shocked to learn that the shy girl they had hosted was wanted by anti-terrorism detectives investigating the worst terrorist attack since the 1998 US embassy bombings.
“The girl had been around in my house for less than a week undergoing treatment for anaemia and was sickly; doctors had advised that she take some rest and she opted to come and stay with us,” she said.
Mrs Ali said she had been the girl’s guardian since her primary school days after the death of her mother and that she had visited them because there was no one to nurse her in Mombasa.
“A few hours before the raid, the girl told me her mobile phone had been jammed and she could neither receive nor make calls,” Mrs Ali told the Sunday Nation.
This was an indication that detectives were monitoring her telephone conversations.
Because she was ill, the phone problems didn’t bother her, Mrs Alis said, and she assumed they were a result of normal mobile network interruptions.
They did not know that anti-terrorism agents were already in town tracking the student’s exact location after calls from her phone were linked to one of the Westgate mall attackers.
Mrs Ali told how at around 7p.m. they heard persistent knocks on their door, but no one sensed anything was amiss.
“More than 20 officers entered the house, and they went straight for the corner where her phone had been kept,” she said.
The American agents who, according to the young woman’s family had been trailing the student for a while, arrived in Kitui on Wednesday evening accompanied by officers from Anti-Terror Police Unit.
“They found us taking dinner and told us the student was required to help police with some investigations. They thoroughly searched our house” Mrs Ali, a social worker, said.
The US agents were first spotted trying to establish co-ordinates outside a popular nightclub. They were holding equipment believed to be GPRS tracking devices.
According to Mrs Ali, the student is facing questions over her association with a man she has been dating and who is believed to have been part of the group that attacked the Westgate mall.
She said the student was later released and ordered to report to anti-terrorism police officers in Mombasa every week.
Efforts to speak to the student were unsuccessful as she was said to be traumatised by the turn of events.
Her father, Ramadhan Chitoja, said he was sure his daughter would be vindicated.