The extent of Kenya’s vulnerability to terrorism continued to unravel after police arrested three Turkish suspects, carrying Sh30 million (USD 348,000) in cash at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, as they were about to fly all to Somalia. Police suspect they were travelling to pay some of the masterminds of the Westgate mall attack.
Police sources told The People the three foreigners had apparently managed to compromise a whole chain of ostensibly tight airport security and were nabbed just as they were about to board an aircraft, when a junior anti-terrorism police officer became suspicious of their cash cargo.
The cash seizure once again puts sharp focus on the country’s porous borders and corruption-ridden entry and exit points, which have widely been blamed as key facilitators of terrorist activities. The People Sunday Edition ran a chronology of terrorism incidents that have rocked Kenya since the US Embassy bombing of 1998, with details on how terrorists often wriggled out of police dragnet through corruption.
Police and intelligence authorities yesterday said initial investigation showed the money was meant to pay either some of the al Shabaab masterminds or individuals involved in the Westgate Mall attack, based in Somalia. Our security sources indicate that the path of the suspected money smugglers may have been made smooth by airport officials who had been compromised to allow them passage through security checks.
They were arrested at the last moment while waiting to board the plane. Intelligence reports by top security sources indicate the cash was concealed as ordinary luggage by three Turkish nationals who were to aboard East African Safaris Express Flight No 5B-1826. It also emerged that the three, whose names police listed alongside their passports, could not speak either English or Kiswahili and had been in the country posing as tourists.
On the day the Westgate mall was attacked by terrorists, police at JKIA arrested a terror suspect destined for Turkey. According to records, the three came to the country on October 4, two weeks after the mall attack. Their visas indicated they were employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent on a one-month holiday in Kenya. Police were yet to establish where the three were booked between October 4 and Monday this week.
Detectives were even more puzzled when the three said in their statements they intended to travel to Somalia as “tourists” for two days before retuning to Kenya, yet few tourists if any are known to head to the volatile destination. They were also said to have been constantly in touch with some individuals in Somalia since their arrival in the country.
According to sources, the trio had been cleared to the airside before a junior Anti-Terrorism Police Unit officer intercepted them and demanded they open their luggage to confirm the contents. “Right from the departure room, these people were aided by rogue officials whom we believe enabled them get clearance.
Shockingly, they had been cleared at all these security checks, until the ATPU officer insisted to have a look at their travel documents and contents of their luggage,” a top detective involved in the operation told us. Kenya Airports Authority security chief Eric Kiraithe said close scrutiny of the suspects’ passports indicated they had been in and out of the country on more than five occasions.
When contacted for comment, Head of ATPU Boniface Mwaniki declined to comment on whether investigations potentially points to terrorism links. Through a letter in our possession, Kenya Revenue Authority Deputy Commissioner in charge of Nairobi Customs Station Rose W. Gichira declared the seizure and recovery of the undeclared money to the Director Assets Recovery Agency and copied the same to the Office of the Attorney General.
“We wish to report the seizure of USD 348,000 confiscated today (October 8, 2013) at JKIA from three passengers who had been scheduled to fly East African Safaris Flight No 5B-1826 to Mogadishu, Somalia,” a letter from Customs Services Department Ref: NCS/EXP/1 read.
Officials from the Banking Fraud Investigations Department have already launched forensic investigations, including profiling serial numbers of the seized notes, to establish the source and point of dispatch of the money in question. Kiraithe said by telephone from Mombasa, where he was on duty, the arrest of the three was made by his team.
“One of my officers who was alert actually became suspicious of the manner in which the guys were behaving and decided to alert us. We cannot tell where the money was destined or for what purpose, but it is not normal for such amounts of cash to be carted out of the country, and in particular to a country like Somalia,” Kiraithe said.
Airport Police boss Joseph Ngisa said the three will be arraigned in court today for failing to declare the amount of cash in their possession and could be charged with money laundering. Ordinarily, before withdrawal of such an amount in any bank, a formal notification must be registered with the Central Bank of Kenya to avoid breaching prudential guidelines on money laundering.
“Foreign agents like FBI, Israel’s Mossad and M15 closely monitor direct wiring of cash and financial transaction to Somali banks. These agents have now eyed Kenya because of the flaws and deep-rooted corruption to facilitate these activities,” one of the security officers said.