Written by Oscar Nkala
The Kenya Police Services has commissioned a new state of-the-art anti-terrorism nerve centre, which will also act as a regional intelligence fusion centre to monitor the threat posed by terrorist groups throughout East Africa.
The centre was built with the help of the British government, which also donated one Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) for use by the marine police on coastal patrols around the port of Lamu, X-ray and scanner equipment to screen visitors entering and leaving the country through the Nairobi International Airport, and maritime surveillance equipment to monitor piracy.
The centre, which is known as the Kenya Police Operations Centre (KPOC), features advanced technology-driven investigation systems which include a forensic laboratory, detection equipment and state of the art interrogation and holding cells for terror suspects.
Officiating at the commissioning ceremony in Nairobi last week, British High Commissioner to Kenya Christian Turner said the opening of the centre proves that his government remains committed to helping Kenya and the East Africa in upgrading the regional capacity to fight transnational crime and terrorism.
“The UK’s support for this centre is a further indication of the commitment that the UK has to working with Kenya. This centre will help both countries deepen our partnership in fighting terrorism,” Turner was quoted by local media as saying.
Further, he said the centre will serve as the main intelligence gathering, co-ordination and operations cell in all matters relating to terrorism in East Africa. As part of the security assistance package, the British government also trained Kenyan police officers from the Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU) on how to use the new equipment. British instructors also provided their Kenyan counterparts with human rights education.
The Kenyan Police Service police anti-terror unit welcomed the launch of the centre saying it comes at a time when the country is facing new security threats from home-grown and transnational terror groups and maritime crime syndicates. Internally, the Kenyan police are fighting a low-level guerilla war against the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), an armed group which wants the Muslim majority coastal areas to secede from Kenya and form a republic in which Mombasa will be the capital city.
Last week, a Kenyan magistrate sentenced Iranians Ahmad Mohammed and Sayed Mousavi to life in prison after finding them guilty of plotting bomb attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa. They were arrested in Mombasa in June last year after being found in possession of 15 kg of the military-grade explosive RDX. The arrest was immediately followed by Israeli Prime Mininster Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that his security services had information that the two were part of a wider terrorist plot to attack Israeli-related interests and businesses in Kenya.
Although both men and the Iranian government denied any complicity to a terror plot, Judge Kiarie Waweru ruled that there was enough evidence for each man to be sentences to life in prison. Kenya has been hit by a number of terrorist attacks since August 1998 when Al Qaeda operatives led by Fazul Abdul Mohammed conducted simultaneous truck-bomb attacks which blew up US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania within a short period.
Since then, Kenya has been hit by terror attacks. On 28 November 2002, an all-terrain vehicle crashed through a security checkpoint outside the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel and blew up, killing 15 people and injuring 80 others, most of whom were Israelis. At exactly the same time, two shoulder-launched Strela 2 (SAM-7) surface-to-air missiles were fired at an Israeli-chartered Boeing 757 as it took off from Mombasa but they both missed the target.
Following its military intervention in support of the Somali government, Kenya now faces an immediate threat from Al Shabaab after routing the insurgents out of southern, coastal and central Somalia. Since then, the Somali insurgents have been blamed for a surge of kidnappings and grenade attacks in Nairobi and various small towns along the border with Somalia between October 2011 and 2012.
Among its key regional targets, the anti-terror nerve centre in Nairobi will also monitor suspected terrorist activity along the border with Tanzania. This week, Tanzanian security services arrested eight men – among them four Tanzanians and four Saudi Arabians – in connection with a fresh terror attack in which a Catholic church parish near the coastal city of Aruscha was bombed while the Vatican ambassador Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla was visiting on Sunday.
Two people were killed and 60 others were wounded in the incident. The Saudi nationals had entered the country through a small airport near the city of Arusha on Saturday and were arrested on Sunday as they tried to cross the border into Kenya. Kenyan and Tanzanian security services say there is evidence that both countries are targets and recruiting centres for international Islamist-inspired terror groups.