5 Pillarz’ East Africa correspondent, Mohammed Kahiye, writes how he was robbed at gunpoint whilst reporting on the United Nation’s Monitoring report which accused a mosque of being affiliated with Al Shabab.
When I went to cover the opening ceremony of the Riyadha Mosque in the predominantly Muslim slum of the Majengo area of Nairobi on Friday 2 August, I never thought I would be a victim of gunpoint robbery in such a “secure” area. But according to local residents, the area has its “owners” who were dangerous Muslim gangs that don’t even spare people in the holy month of Ramadan.
Like most journalists, I moved around the mosque taking different angled photos of the congregation and spoke to worshipers about what they thought about the UN Monitoring report. But little did I know that I was being watched and somebody was following my every move.
After the jummah prayers, a joint a press conference was held by numerous Muslim leaders who attended the opening ceremony. The words of an old man who was invited to speak at the mimbar on behalf of the local residents touched my heart. He broke into tears, accusing the police of shooting young Muslim boys for simply snatching mobile phones from pedestrians.
I sympathized with his plea, how could somebody lose his life because of snatching a replaceable mobile handset? I blamed the police and even went a step further in my mind that they were specifically targeting Muslims.
Once the ceremonial occasion was over, everybody was in a jovial mood. A new mosque was built next to everyone’s locality and I was happy for them. It was my time to share the happiness with them by writing a story which argued against the UN Monitoring report which accused the new mosque of being involved in terrorist activities.
Just as I stepped outside the mosque to catch a bus back to my office, I heard a deep voice: “Don’t try to move if you care for your life” – it was a group of teenagers armed with pistols. They ordered me and my friend to give everything in our possession over to them. I followed their instructions since I was always advised not to fool with somebody who has a gun. Reluctantly I passed my phone and the little cash I had in my pocket, hoping to distract them from my camera bag.
One of the gang members forced me to hand over my camera but I tried to resist due to the vital contents of the bag which included the whole story surrounding the malicious UN Monitoring report of Riyadha Mosque. My futile resistance resulted in a big blow to my face (I didn’t know if I was struck by the pistol or a fist) as blood started pouring out of my mouth.
From that moment on everything was a blur and I couldn’t recall how my camera got taken off me. I left empty-handed, without my phone, money and most importantly my camera and notepad.
Ironically, I felt sorry for the young boys who chose a life of criminality over the life of a God-fearing Muslim, especially in this blessed month of mercy. Funnily enough, I was more upset about my camera – any journalist reading this will understand how I felt.
Nonetheless, I was adamant to get cracking and get my story on the UN Monitoring report over to my editor at 5 Pillarz as promised.
False information of the UN’s Monitoring report
Muslim politicians of Kenya have yet again distanced themselves from another UN Monitoring report accusing mosques in the country of having links with Al Shabab. This time the UN report has accused the newly opened Riyadha Mosque of being a financial donor for the Somali jihadi group. Riyadha’s mosque committee have said that the content of the report is “doubtful, baseless and a statement of false information by the enemies of Islam to tarnish its name”.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the new mosque in Majengo, former Minister of Tourism Najib Balala, who was one of the Muslim leaders that funded the Riyadha Mosque project, described how Kenyan detectives investigated him and other Muslim leaders who were mentioned in a previous report to the “terrorist” organization in Somalia. He said: “The investigation department has investigated, and has concluded that there is no evidence linking us to the UN Monitoring report’s claims, so I am wondering where they are getting this false information from?”
Mr Balala urged Muslims to ignore the report and move forward in extending their helping hands to the less fortunate in the community, especially during the month of Ramadan. He highlighted the importance of having “accomplished the mission,” referring to the completion of the mosque which began in 2007 before it was halted by the UN Monitoring report.
On their part, Senators Billow Kerrow and Hassan Omar Hassan said the UN Monitoring Group in Somalia should be ignored because it has perfected the art of linking Kenyan Muslims to Al Shabab without any viable evidence.
The UN report claims that an employee of the Kenyan Parliamentary Service Commission, in this case a Muslim, has been at the forefront of recruiting jihadis to fight in Somalia.
The report also stated that the official members on the committee of Pumwani Mosque, allegedly financed terrorism and recruited fighters in Kenya through a separate entity called Al Hijra.
Senator Billow Kerrow read a part of the report in jummah prayers that claimed the mosque committee was “importing bomb making materials from China and storing it in the mosque premises, before being dispatched to Al Shabab fighters inside Somalia”. He requested the mosque administration to open all its stores to journalists to prove the lack of evidence in the UN Monitoring report.
The senators described the report as “bogus” because it was authored by “four or five” consultancies that sit in offices in Nairobi that do not want to lose the UN funding for survival, adding the report fell short of providing evidence on the official alleged role in the funding and recruitment of jihadists. Mr Kerrow said: “Throughout the report there is no evidence in regards to any links between Al Shabab and Riyadha Mosque.”