BY KIPCHUMBA SOME
GARISSA COUNTY: On the afternoon of June 9, an unlikely incident in Garrissa helped to reveal the faces and reasons behind a spate of mysterious killings that have rocked the county. That afternoon, a man approached Hassan Yusuf Intabur in his shop on Guled Street in Garissa Town, pulled out a gun concealed in his right hip, and shot him in the hea
The gunman then pumped seven more rounds into Intabur’s body until his gun jammed. When this happened, members of the public who had taken cover spotted an opportunity to apprehend the suspect.
But the attacker had another weapon. From a plastic paper bag he was carrying, he fished out a grenade, removed the pin and hurled it towards the crowd that was surging towards him. However, his backup failed him, too. The grenade landed softly in the soil, and failed to detonate. With nothing left to thwart the mob, the attacker took off on foot, with wananchi hot on his heels. There was pandemonium in the town as the crowd pursued the attacker who, though fleet-footed, seemed a stranger to the town since he did not know seem to know where to escape to
They eventually caught up with him, tackled him to the ground, and gave him a thorough beating before the police arrived to save him from imminent death. With his capture, the police achieved a rare breakthrough in solving a string of killings that had rocked Garrisa since June. Furthermore, the breakthrough uncovered a vicious war of attrition being fought by the Ethiopian government against one of its secessionist movements. Garissa, a small sand-swept town 350 kilometres east of Nairobi, had become the unlikely hunting ground for Addis Ababa’s special forces against the separatists. When questioned by the police, the attacker, who neither spoke English nor Kiswahili, identified himself through an interpreter as Abdirahman Mohammed Hajir, a chief inspector of police in the Somali regional government of Ethiopia. This is a southern part of Ethiopia dominated by ethnic Somalis. A rebel movement from the area has been fighting to secede from Ethiopia since 1984.
The region is also alternately known as Ogaden, or Western Somalia, and the main rebel group is the Ogaden National Liberation Front ( ONLF).
REVENGE MISSION For years, Addis Ababa has sought to destroy the group through brutal repression, resulting in the scattering of the movement’s members to neighbouring countries and beyond. Hajir told the Kenyan police that he was a member of the Special Police Force, or the Liyu in Amharic, a feared paramilitary unit mainly dedicated to fighting the separatists. This force was once headed by Abdi Mohamoud Omar, the current president of the Somali Regional Government, and who is staunchly against ONLF.
Also known as Abdi Ilay, he is a prominent member of Ethiopian Somali People Democratic Party (ESPD), and longtime close ally of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Although he never implicated any of his superiors, Hajir said he had been given orders to carry out a revenge mission for the killing of one of their supporters in Garissa. “It was an incredible tale, almost too difficult to believe,” said Musa Yego, the North Eastern regional director of the Criminal Investigations Department. “For a long time, we were at a loss on what was happening. We thought it was Al Shabab, but the killings seemed targeted, and it was unlike the group to carry out attacks in broad daylight.” The pressure from the Government to find an answer to the killings was mounting with each attack in the county. Garissa has been the worst hit by a spate of terrorist attacks and unexplained killings that have claimed tens of lives. “We have already done much to battle insecurity here. But because these attacks happened almost at the same time as the ones in Lamu, we were under great pressure to bring the culprits to book,” Yego said.