Zeinab Bulley Hussein holding the national identity card of her son, Abdi Bare Mohamed. Community members stumbled on Abdi Bare's dead body 18 kilometers from Mandera, in northeastern Kenya, three weeks after police officers arrested him outside the family's home in August 2015.
Investigating deadly terror attacks in Kenya
03:28 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Human Rights Watch accuses Kenyan security services of 'disappearing' 34

Rights group says figure is likely only 'small sample'

CNN  — 

They were taken from their homes, workplaces and places of worship, placed in unmarked cars or vehicles linked to security services and never seen again.

In the midst Kenya’s counterterrorism operations to eliminate the threat of the al Qaeda-linked terror group Al-Shabaab, the country’s security services have been behind at least 34 enforced disappearances of terror suspects, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) released Wednesday.

In another 11 cases, investigators found remains of people who were last seen in the custody of security agents, their bodies found often miles from where they had been arrested.

Witnesses interviewed in the report said those who were behind the operations often carried military or police identification, drove cars with government insignia, and in many cases drove those who were arrested to military bases and police stations. This has lead witnesses and the rights group to believe security forces were behind the disappearances.

Disappearances… and threats

Witnesses say 35-year-old Abdiwahab Noor Abdi Diis was arrested in his retail shop by men wearing Kenyan military uniforms and driving armored vehicles. His body was found five days later with three bullets in the back of his head and a bullet in each shoulder.

Abdiwelli Ibrahim Sheikh and another man were taken away by military officers in March 2015, according to witnesses.

“The security officers said they wanted to ask him a few questions and then they would release him,” said a witness. “We never knew he was being taken away for good.”

Relatives say that when family asked police, they denied knowledge of his whereabouts.

“They threatened to shoot us if we went back,” the family told investigators.

Harassment and intimidation

The 87-page report, titled “Deaths and Disappearances: Abuses in Counterterrorism Operations in Nairobi and in Northeastern Kenya,” claims the Kenyan government and police have not “meaningfully investigated these deaths.”

It alleges that they “denied knowledge of the missing people, failed to acknowledge credible evidence of abuses during counterterrorism operations, failed to investigate the allegations and in some instances, intimidate and harass those seeking information and accountability.”

The report centers on the northeastern region of Kenya, which has a large population of citizens of Somalian heritage and has been the site of attacks as Al-Shabaab crosses Kenya’s porous border with Somalia.

The Kenyan government has been fighting against Al-Shabaab since Kenyan forces entered Somalia in 2011 as part of a wider African Union force. Since then, Al-Shabaab has launched a series of attacks within Kenyan borders, including the 2015 Garissa University College massacre in which 148 people were killed and the 2013 attack on Westgate mall, where 63 people died.

Rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have documented such abuses by security services before. Last year, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, a state-funded, independent body released a report accusing the government of arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, and inhuman and degrading treatment.

‘Just a small sample’

The Kenyan government has repeatedly denied the allegations.

“We’ve gotten a lot of those types of comments from the media, but when we go out and look for them, we don’t find,” says Ministry of the Interior spokesman Njoka in an earlier interview with CNN’s Nima Elbagir. “Sometimes we don’t know if these are allegations just to create sympathy.

“If there are cases of people who have disappeared and they believed they could be held by ATPU, let them report to the police, the interior ministry.”

However, the report’s author Ostieno Namwaya says the report is just “a small sample of what’s going on.”

“When we were doing the research, we found that the disappearances started way before the Garissa attack and they have being going on quite silently without much public attention.”

“People in northeastern Kenya deserve protection from Al-Shabaab attacks, not further abuse from the authorities,” said Ken Roth, Executive Director at Human Rights Watch.

“Rounding people up and refusing to disclose their whereabouts is a serious crime and only compounds fears and mistrust in the security forces.”