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Some Suspect Kenyan Anti-Terror Forces In Disappearance Of Somali Muslims


Somali Muslims are going missing in Kenya. Human Rights Watch and other groups say that antiterrorist security forces are to blame. NPR's Gregory Warner brings us this story from Garissa, Kenya, near the Somali border.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Most of these alleged disappearances happen in secret.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: But I've been invited to a house in Garissa to see some accidental video evidence. Closed-circuit cameras in a mobile phone shop installed to deter thieves captured men taking away the 27-year-old shop owner, Hamza Mohammed Bare, the breadwinner of this extended family. He was taken this April. The family member hands the cell phone with the video to my interpreter, Daud.

DAUD: So this is the footage.

WARNER: Have the kids seen this?

Bare's 5-year-old nephew Shurem is leaning so close to the cell phone, I can feel his breath bouncing back. I don't want him to get traumatized by watching this video.

SHUREM: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: "I've seen it," Shurem assures us. "We've all seen it." And then his mom asks him, who's taking away your uncle?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

SHUREM: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: Askar - soldiers. Now, it's not clear if these are soldiers in the video. They're in plain clothes. But they are trained. First, they pose as customers, and then, when the coast is clear, they leap over the counter and quickly, cleanly handcuff the shop owner. The family believe that these are members of Kenya's elite anti-terror police unit. But the police won't admit to having him when the families hired a lawyer to take the government to court.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

WARNER: Later, I visit a compound in Garissa where five more people were taken away this April. Only one of those people is accounted for. She's in a women's prison in Nairobi. The other four are apparently still missing. A neighbor, who gives her name only as Sophie, says she's afraid.

SOPHIE: (Through interpreter) We are afraid because - do we fear the men who the government is looking for, or do we fear the government? We don't know where to run to.

WARNER: Al Shabaab, the Islamist group, has used this fear in recruitment videos, splicing images of Kenyan police with jihadist war cries. And a recent survey found this message may be resonating. More than 60 percent of Kenyan militants say the reason that they joined Al Shabaab was the aggressive anti-terror tactics of Kenyan security forces, including alleged extrajudicial killing and abductions.

Mohamud Saleh is the new regional coordinator for Kenya's Northeast. It's the top security post in Garissa. He denies the extrajudicial killings and says he can't talk about active terrorism investigations. Though he wasn't in this post in April when a spate of arrests took place. It was just after a terrorist attack on a University campus that killed 147 students. Saleh conceded that police aggression has helped terrorists recruit.

MOHAMUD SALEH: I think it's regrettable. Maybe things happen with emotions after losing so many kids. And you know, sometimes people overreact. So under my watch, I told my officers that they must follow due process.

WARNER: But due process in Kenya, he says, allows police to hold a terror suspect for 90 days with no charge and no family notification. The shop owner in the closed circuit camera footage has been missing for more than 120 days.

SALEH: That was before I came. I believe he's going to appear in court, most likely.

WARNER: Hours after he said this, a military lawyer appeared in Nairobi court to say the military does not know where he is. A judge remanded the government to produce man in three weeks, either somewhere in an interrogation facility or a prison cell or a morgue. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Garissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.