Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response

New CRS report which provides an overview of current U.S. counterterrorism assistance programs and influence operations in East Africa and explores some of the strategies underpinning them. It also provides a brief description of the evolving terrorist threat in the region.

Uganda: Terror Charges Against Pakistanis Dismissed

On September 23, 2010, in Uganda, the Nakawa Chief Magistrates Court released two men from Pakistan who had been in custody in the case of the July 11, 2010, bombings in Kampala. Seventy-six people died and many others were injured in the bombing during a World Cup soccer match. The two men were Shaykh Zamir Naufal, who owns a business called Tech-Access Africa, Limited, and Dithan Peter Ntale, who works for Naufal.

State Attorney Joan Kagezi had asked Chief Magistrate Deo Ssejjemba to release the suspects, because the public prosecution office had withdrawn the charges against them. Kagezi said that she had been told to drop the case, as the director of public prosecutions “has lost interest in prosecuting them because there is no sufficient evidence against them.”  Two other men involved in the case, a human rights activist from Kenya, Al-Amin Kimathi, and another Kenyan, Omar Awadh Omar, who is suspected of being a terrorist, were remanded into custody until there is a review of their objection to the plan to transfer them back to the police for questioning. There are still 36 suspects detained in connection with the bombing.

Uganda: Terrorism Charges Used Against Kenyan Rights Defender

Ugandan authorities should either release a Kenyan human rights activist
who is being held on terrorism charges or provide details of the
charges, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today in a
joint letter to the Ugandan government.Al-Amin Kimathi was arrested, along with Kenyan lawyer Mbugua Mureithi, on September 15 after the two travelled from Kenya to Uganda to observe a hearing of six Kenyans charged with terrorism in connection with the July bomb attacks in Kampala, which killed over 76 people who were watching the World Cup final. Mureithi was released after three days and deported to Kenya. Kimathi, who heads the Muslim Human Rights Forum in Kenya, was held incommunicado for six days before being charged with terrorism and murder on September 21.  

“Al-Amin Kimathi seems to have been arbitrarily arrested for carrying out his legitimate human rights work – providing legal support to the suspects charged in connection with the bomb attack,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa program director.

The charge sheet contains no details or allegations about Kimathi’s conduct that would make him responsible for the crimes described.

Kenya defends arrests over Uganda World Cup bombing

Kenyan authorities have defended the rendition of suspects to Uganda for trial over July’s bombings, by leaking documents alleging their terror links.The documents, published by Kenyan media, describe an al-Qaeda cell in East Africa and provide details of how the Kampala attack was planned. They say that “tens of youths” from across Kenya have joined the cell, trained in Somalia and fought alongside al-Shabab. The details also suggest that plans for twin attacks on Nairobi have begun.

In recent weeks dozens of Kenyans have been extradited over the suicide attack, which killed some 76 people. Ten of the 36 Kenyan suspects in total have been charged in connection with the attack.

Last week Human Rights Watch reported that two Kenyan activists working on the cases of suspects charged with terrorism for the July 11, 2010 Kampala bombings have been illegally detained in Uganda and are at risk of abuse. The Kenyan activists traveled to Uganda to attend the scheduled hearing of 34 terrorism suspects.

Kenya accused of illegally transferring 4 terrorist suspects

Kenya secretly sent four terrorism suspects to Uganda after the World Cup bomb blasts in violation of Kenyan law, and FBI agents interrogated three of them in a manner that broke Ugandan law, human rights officials say.

The officials said that Kenya circumvented its own extradition laws to send the four suspects to Uganda, where they can be interrogated for a lengthy period without scrutiny.

“The fact that they are extralegally being moved looks like the Kenyans have devised reasons to circumvent the law,” said Al-Amin Kimathi, the chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum. “The end is not justice, the end is information gathering via all sorts of interrogation efforts.”

Lawyer Mbugua Mureithi, who represents the families of suspects, said no attempts were made by the Kenyan government to follow extradition procedures.

“Even more disturbing is that Uganda has not made a formal request to extradite the four nationals to Uganda,” he said.

A spokesman for Kenya’s government said Wednesday he did not have any immediate comment.

No arrest warrants exist in Kenya and nor do any court orders granting permission for the citizens to be removed from the country, Mureithi said. Kenyan authorities should have first charged the suspects in Kenya, he said. Instead, he charges that the removals amount to kidnapping.

Mureithi said the FBI and Kenyan police interrogated three of the suspects in Uganda after they were charged in court on July 30, violating their rights of a fair trial under Uganda’s constitution. Mureithi said he had visited the three last week who told him that they also have been interrogated by the FBI at least three times. Kimathi  questioned further the failure by the Ugandan courts to arraign the suspects in court within 48 hours as it happened with the Uganda suspects. This he said was discriminatory.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Wednesday the U.S. is aiding the investigation but he did not have any immediate comment on the role the FBI was playing.

The four Kenyans — Hussein Hassan Agade, Idris Magondu, Mohamed Adan Abdow, and Mohamed Hamid Suleiman — were arrested from different locations in Kenya following the July 11 attack that killed 76 people as large crowds watched the World Cup final on TV.

Al-Shabab, a Somali group with links to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the attacks and said it targeted Uganda because Ugandan troops belonging to an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia have killed Somali civilians.

Suleiman’s family says he is innocent and was beaten by police during his arrest last Friday at their home. His supporters say he works as a tour agent, human rights worker and Arabic interpreter for the Kenyan courts.

Kimathi warned that such arrests will make more Muslim youths adopt radical views, which will in turn lead to more violence.

“There is radicalization of youth, especially Muslim youths, now who feel they are completely besieged by this,” he said. “They are fearful that anytime now, any day now, one of them might be grabbed in the wee hours of the morning shunted out to another country.”

National Muslim Leaders Forum Chairman Abdullahi Abdi, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims Secretary General Adan Wachu his Council of Imams and Preacher of Kenya counterpart Sheikh Muhammad Dor, and Muslim Human Rights Forum Chairman Al Amin Kimathi expressed concern that following the bombings in Kampala, women, children and old people in Mombasa and Nairobi were harassed and intimidated by security forces.

Kimathi said the transfer of the four suspects was reminiscent of the arrests of 100 people of various nationalities who were fleeing violence in Somalia in 2007. Those arrested were flown back to Somalia and then to secret prisons in Ethiopia, where they were interrogated by the CIA and FBI. All those arrested in those swoops were set free within a year, but nine Kenyans remained in custody for more than a year before they were released.

Uganda: Parliament insists on judicial oversight in wiretapping law

On July 15, 2010, in the wake of a terrorist attack on July 11 in Kampala that claimed 74 civilian lives, the Ugandan Parliament passed into law the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill. The legislators insisted that there be judicial oversight of the process of communications interception, despite arguments put forward by the Ministry of Security that it should be in charge. The law will take effect after being approved by the President of Uganda.

Under the bill, a warrant for interception of communications is only valid for three months and may be issued if there is a “reasonable ground for a High Court judge to believe” that:

  • a felony that puts lives in danger has been or is being or will probably be committed;
  • the gathering of information concerning an actual threat to national security or to any national economic interest is necessary;
  • the gathering of information concerning a potential threat to public safety, national security, or any national economic interest is necessary; or
  • there is a threat to the national interest involving the state’s international relations or obligations. (

The initial language of the bill gave the authority to issue wiretapping warrants to the Minister for Security, a member of the executive branch of government. Parliament, however, on the recommendation of its Sessional Committee on Information and Communications Technology (ICT), decided to place such authority with the High Court in the final version of the bill. In making the recommendation, ICT argued that it was not appropriate to entrust the Minister for Security with the authority to issue warrants, as that would result in a conflict of interest and possible violations of the right to privacy.

(H/T Law Library of Congress)

Uganda: Failure to implement court order to investigate responsibility of counter- terrorism force for death in custody

On 10 June, the NGO Human Rights Watch requested the Ugandan Government to enforce a High Court order appointing a coroner to investigate the death of Saidi Lutaaya, who was held by the Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force (JATT) in Kololo, a suburb of Kampala.

The High Court ordered the investigation on 10 February 2010, but the order has yet to be executed.

“The Ugandan government should respect the High Court order and promptly conduct a formal inquiry into Saidi Lutaaya’s death,” said Rona Peligal, acting Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This case is an important opportunity for the government to show a commitment to ending abuse by security forces.”

Human Rights Watch in its 2009 report, “Open Secret,” documented numerous cases of illegal detention, torture, and some extra-judicial killings by Uganda’s Joint Anti-terrorism Task Force. It is not clear why JATT members arrested Lutaaya, who worked in the Old Taxi Park in Kampala as a hawker, on November 23, 2007, on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that once Lutaaya was in custody, Task Force members severely beat him and struck him in the head with a hammer. He fell unconscious, and was taken to Mulago hospital in Kampala, where he was pronounced dead. According to hospital staff, soldiers collected his body.


Australian terrorist suspect disappears in military intelligence detention in Uganda

Hashi Hussein Farah and “a dozen others”, were arrested by the Joint Anti-terrorism Taskforce (JATT) in Kisenyi slum in the capital Kampala, Uganda, allegedly on the 1st of April. He was paraded on television later in the evening. The terror suspects were taken away by the anti-terrorism squad for further interrogation to an unknown place of detention. Today, NTV Uganda said that 8 Al Shabaab suspects were released. It was unclear whether Farah was one of the persons, and if now all suspects had been released. Earlier NTV had reported that “7 Somali nationals suspected to be linked to al-Shabaab were arrested in Kampala”, and were “in Old Kampala police station”, “undergoing intense interrogation”.

The Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba declined to comment, saying the police did not arrest Farah. She referred The Ugandan Independent newspaper to JATT, a military intelligence squad, which carried out the arrest. However the Army Spokesman Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye declined to divulge details about Hussein Farah, on account that it would jeopardise investigations. He said Farah’s arrest is part of a wider investigation. He did not say where Farah was being detained.

Farah, who has an Australian passport, was first arrested by the Kenyan police on March 13, 2010 as he was trying to cross Uganda’s Busia border into Kenya.

The Kenyan police released him hours later under unclear circumstances that suggested the police took a bribe from him for his ransom. Shortly after his release, upon checking his names and identity on the international security network, it was discovered he had been on the international list of wanted terrorists. He was wanted by the Australian police for masterminding a plot to attack the Holsworthy army base in August 2009. Australian Federal Police would neither confirm nor deny that Farah was wanted.

After his “escape” on the 13th of March, it was alleged last week that Farah was back into Uganda. But the Army spokesman refuted on the 23d of March the claims that Farah was in Uganda. It is not known where Farah was between the 13th of March and the 1st of April.

JATT’s practices of secret detention

Last year Human Rights Watch issued a report which documented the JATT’s abusive response to alleged rebel and terrorist activity by unlawfully detaining and brutally torturing suspects. Human Rights Watch found that over the past two years, the unit illegally detained more than 100 people and tortured at least 25 during interrogations.

Link with Australia

In Australia four Victorian men charged over the same alleged plot will stand trial in Melbourne.

Saney Edow Aweys, Yacqub Khayre, Abdirahmin Mohamud Ahmed, and Wissam Mahmoud Fattal, have pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges.

A fifth man also facing charges over the alleged plot, Nayef El Sayed, will face a contested committal hearing in May.

Al Shabaab’s position towards Uganda
The group which is fighting the Somali Transitional Federal Government is opposed to Uganda’s deployment of peacekeepers in the Somali capital Mogadishu. According to a source of NTV, “al-Shabaab may have opened up three training camps, two in the eastern Ugandan district of Jinja and one in Kisenyi. Street children in Kampala are also being recruited and sent abroad for training”