NAIROBI  (Reuters) – Mohammed Abdillahi pores over court proceedings and affidavits as he waits for prayers to begin at the Jamia Mosque in downtown Nairobi.

The distraught 58-year-old Kenyan spends every spare moment rallying against his government’s role in what he calls the “illegal arrest, disappearance and rendition” of his son.

Kenyan authorities deny any knowledge of 21-year-old Abdi Mohammed Abdillahi, but his father says the evidence is on TV.

“I saw Abdi arrested at the border on the national news — you check the tapes,” the elder Abdillahi said.

Abdillahi says his son, who was in neighbouring Somalia when war broke out over the New Year, is a victim of Kenya’s eagerness to fall in line with America’s “war on terror”.

“Abdi was with his brother in Mogadishu because they couldn’t find work in Nairobi. Then they were running home together. His brother made it back,” Abdillahi said.

Human rights advocates say Kenyan authorities in January and February captured more than 100 people fleeing Somalia’s war — when Ethiopian and American-backed forces drove out an Islamist regime — and smuggled them into a secret detention programme.

In a case some have dubbed the “African Guantanamo”, suspects were flown across borders in shackles and faced what rights groups call illegal, aggressive interrogation without access to consular officials or lawyers.

Many have not been heard from since.

“My son was born and raised in Kenya and went to primary and secondary school in Nairobi. We have nothing to do with the war in Somalia,” Abdillahi said.


“We have tried so much. We have documentary proof, we hold rallies, protests, taking our proof to the people, then to the police headquarters, then to the office of the president. No one does anything,” Abdillahi said.

Human Rights Watch says U.S. officials were given access to about 150 suspects in Kenya. The Kenyan government later moved more than 80 to Somalia, from which many were taken and held incommunicado in Ethiopia, the group says.

Ethiopia is Washington’s main ally in the region.

The U.S. embassy in Nairobi refused to comment on the allegations, directing Reuters to Washington where officials would not comment on specifics and reiterated a standard line: “We are still committed to fighting terrorism in the region.”

Abdillahi says he met with Kenya’s anti-terrorism police in mid-January in Nairobi, where Abdi was being held, and was told his son would be released shortly.

“A few days later Abdi calls me from Somalia. He says he was flown hooded and chained. Two days more, only able to speak for a moment, he says he is now in Ethiopia. He has no idea why.”

Abdillahi fidgets nervously with his gold watch as others pass him in the halls of the mosque, offering encouragement.

“He is still in Ethiopia as far as I know,” he says.

More than 400 km (249 miles) away in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast, Bwanaheri Lali is missing his brother. He says Said Hamisi Mohamed, 25, was arrested and “rendered” to Mogadishu.

“He has been missing almost a whole year. I found him in Nairobi, then he was taken to Mogadishu. Last I heard he was in Djibouti — that was four months ago,” Lali said.

“We made so many attempts to contact the authorities in Kenya. First they denied everything, then when we produced documentary proof they say they will look into it, but nothing ever happens,” he said.


The Kenyan government routinely denies any wrongdoing in the case. Last month, Internal Security Minister John Michuki took out a notice in the national dailies.

“It is incorrect to claim that some Kenyans have been deported from the country,” he wrote. “Fool-proof evidence (must be presented). Until this is done, the issue of deportation will continue to remain hollow and unconvincing.”

The move brought rabid criticism from rights groups.

“We have the proof. We have statements, documents, sworn affidavits from police officers, even flight manifests that detail those who were smuggled out on commercial flights,” said Al-Amin Kimathi, chairman of Kenya’s Muslim Human Rights Forum, adding, “It’s irrefutable.”

One such statement comes from Mohamed Salim, a Tanzanian who was released from captivity. His 12-page statement graphically details his arrest, rendition, interrogation and torture by a combination of Kenyan, Ethiopian and U.S. forces.

“They locked us up in tiny cells and poured cold water over us regularly,” he told Reuters by telephone from Dar es Salaam.

He said men he identified as U.S. FBI agents beat him in an Ethiopian prison and accused him of working for al Qaeda.

Back at Jamia mosque, Mohammed Abdillahi flicks through Salim’s statement, a father’s concern etched on his face. He has new cause for distress. His other son, Abdi’s older brother, Farrah Mohammed Abdillahi, 26, is missing.

“On August 20, he was leaving the mosque, coming home, but he never arrived. No one saw anything,” his father said.

“He was being very vocal about his brother’s arrest. I checked the hospitals, prisons. Nothing. His phone rang for three days but the police refused to do anything about it. Why?” (Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri, editing by Bryson Hull and Mary Gabriel)

By Jeremy Clarke
Friday, November 09, 2007