Kenyan pilot escape to Somalia sparks fears of air attack

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Kenyan security agents are on alert over a missing pilot who escaped to Somalia.

There are fears Rashid Mwalimu, who is a trained pilot, may sneak back to Kenya on a mission and police want the public to help them in arresting him.

“He is wanted by the Anti-Terrorism Police. He is a trained pilot on mission to carry out aviation attack. Currently, he is in Somalia and is planning on how to sneak back into Kenya. If seen, report to any nearest security agency,” police said in an alert.

This follows a series of events that have seen al Shabaab suffer major setbacks in Somalia following persistent airstrikes which have killed commanders and middle-level operatives in good measure.

According to the police, as a way of revenging the airstrikes, al Shabaab embarked on training pilots for an international aviation attack.

They identified amongst their ranks foreign fighters that had some good level of education for specialised training. Amongst them, two were selected for training as pilots, including Cholo Abdi Abdulla and Mwalimu.

Security sources indicate that Abdulla and Mwalimu were close friends and joined al Shabaab in 2015 where they trained and conducted attacks in Somalia before being sent to Boni forest.

Their educational background turned out to be higher than the other operatives and therefore were selected by the terror group for the aviation course.

A security source has revealed that between 2015 and 2016 both Mwalimu and Abdulla were involved in IED attacks in Boni area of Lamu county.

The two were also close associates of the leader of the dusitD2 attack, Salim Gichunge, aka Faruq.

Mwalimu, Abdulla and Gichunge arrived in Somalia at the same time and were immediately set aside for training as part of the al Shabaab intelligence, the Amniyat.

While on training, they met up with Osman Gedi another dusitD2 attacker. The four formed a close bond and were always together.

When the airstrikes began in earnest, al Shabaab picked on the four for external attack. Gichunge and GedI were selected for an attack in Kenya, while Mwalimu and Abdulla were picked to train as pilots and subsequently be deployed to hijack aircrafts.

Abdulla was subsequently arrested on July 1, 2019 in the Philippines where he had been studying aviation at All-Aisa aviation Academy in Philippines.

According to US authorities on December 16, 2020, Abdulla is facing six counts of terrorism-related offences arising from his activities as an al Shabaab member, including conspiring to hijack an aircraft to conduct a 9/11 style of attack in the US.

He was arrested in Philippines and was subsequently transferred to the custody of US law enforcement for prosecution.

As part of the dissembling efforts and attempts to fit in, and contrary to any claim al Shabaab has on religious piety, Mwalimu and Abdulla lived luxurious lifestyles partaking of alcohol and living promiscuously while on training.

This behaviour was actually sanctioned by top al Shabaab echelons who advise its trainees to live liberally and ensure they fit in.

For instance, Abdulla had a girlfriend from one of the Asian countries who was his classmate, even after she left college, he maintained a long distance relationship. Mwalimu, for his part, lived to his true self as a womaniser, dating several women at a go and lavishing them with money obtained forcibly by al Shabaab from poor populations in Somalia.

They were allowed unlimited access to money, and would fly to various destinations as tourists on first class rates, partly as a way of checking the security arrangement around the cockpit.

Mwalimu and Abdulla have acquired a level of expertise where they can navigate a plane while airborne and as such should never be allowed on board an aircraft.

Indeed, according to security officials they had already completed their training and were conversant with flying and landing planes and all mechanical application in a plane though they had not acquired international licences.

However, for a successful attack, all they needed to do was board a plane as ordinary passengers and thus licences would not be a hindrance to an attack.

Their reckless behaviour is what led the security agents to their trail as they dropped their guard and let out their little and big secrets.

Mwalimu revealed operational information, which in turn blew up his and Abdulla’s cover.

Unfortunately, while Abdulla was arrested, Mwalimu managed to escape back to Somalia after learning of the arrest and cunningly lied about what could have led to security agents bursting their plot.

Police have released a photo of Mwalimu and have urged the public to be vigilant and give information if he is sighted anywhere.

The security agents recognise the cooperation that the public have extended in the war against terrorism, which has led to disruption of many plots and urges the public to continue with this partnership.

-Edited by Sarah Kanyara