Why President Ruto disbanded DCI’s Special Service Unit

An investigation report on the disappearance of two Indian nationals and their local taxi driver precipitated the disbandment of the Special Service Unit (SSU), sources have indicated.

The new Director of Criminal Investigations, Mr Amin Mohamed, presented the report to President William Ruto, at State House, on Thursday morning.

The report recommended disbanding of the unit to pave the way for the conclusion of investigations before the file is forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

President Ruto yesterday said this was part of the changes in the offing as the new administration seeks to overhaul the management of security in the country.

“I am the one who ordered that the Special Service Unit, which was conducting extrajudicial killings, be disbanded. We have a plan on how to secure this country so that we avoid the shame of Kenyans killed [by the police and their bodies dumped] in Yala River and others. We are going to change this country for the better,” President Ruto said while addressing a thanksgiving service in Kericho.

Yala River has been in the news in the past year because of the dozens of bodies that have been recovered there.

There have been suspicions that police are involved in the deaths and human rights activists have demanded an investigation.

Produce them in court

The two Indians—Mohamed Zaid Kidwai and Zulfiqar Ahmen Khan—are reported to have arrived in the country in April this year to join President Ruto’s ICT campaign team but went missing on July 25 after they were abducted outside Ole Sereni Hotel together with their taxi driver, Mr Nicodemus Mwania.

Their families linked their disappearance to state agents as CCTV footage showed their car being blocked and the three being taken away by armed men, leaving the taxi at the scene.

Through lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, the families obtained orders to compel security agencies to produce them in court, but this did not happen on August 5, when the case came up for mention.

On September 15, Acting Inspector-General of Police Noor Gabow directed the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) to take over the investigation and submit a report within 21 days.

The unit arrested several detectives and intelligence officers, interrogated them, and released them last week before Mr Amin was asked to present the findings to the President.

On Saturday night, it was announced that Mr Amin had directed disbanding of the unit and reassigning of its members.

“The DCI Special Service Unit (SSU) has been disbanded with immediate effect. This follows a directive from the AG Inspector General, Mr Noor Gabow. All officers serving in the disbanded unit have been recalled to DCI headquarters for further instructions. This comes as the National Police Service prepares for reorganisation under the new administration,” the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) tweeted.

The development comes barely three years after the former Special Crimes Prevention Unit was scaled down to create a leaner team, SSU, in December 2019.

Sting Squad Headquarters

At the same time, the Flying Squad was disbanded and in its place, another smaller unit dubbed Sting Squad Headquarters (SSH) and composed of about 50 elite officers was formed to discharge its duties.

The units were tasked with dealing with high-profile crimes such as armed robberies, kidnappings, and motor vehicle theft in the city and surrounding counties, but their mandate would occasionally extend beyond the Nairobi metropolis.

They were mandated to work closely with other security agencies to enhance crime deterrence and sharing of intelligence and were required to be on standby all days of the week to attend to critical crime emergencies.

The unit had a string of successes, including the arrest of the infamous Sim swap fraudsters who operated within Nairobi’s central business district, terror suspects in joint operations with the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU), including an espionage case in Wundanyi, Taita Taveta County, in October 2020, and the recovery of firearms from criminal gangs operating in Nairobi under a 2020 operation dubbed “No Guns for Gangs”.

They are also credited with nailing the prime suspect in the murder of veteran Machakos journalist and National Lands Commission official Jennifer Itumbi, who went missing on March 12 last year and was found dead in Ngong Forest three days later.

However, some of the unit’s members went rogue and in July 2020 three of them — constables William Mutua, Henry Maitai, and Jonathan Sankale — were involved in an armed robbery in Matuu.

They raided an illegal gas refilling company and extorted Sh370,000 from the managers. The officers were later disarmed and charged in court.

In another case, the unit’s head and three officers were recommended for disciplinary action after an inquiry by the IAU found them culpable of abusing their powers to detain a woman at Capitol Hill Police Station without justification.

It was alleged that a senior member of the doctors’ union used officers from the unit to settle scores with his girlfriend, whom they summoned to appear before them all the way from Mombasa.

She was arrested and detained for a day without being charged. She later lodged a complaint against the officers at the IAU and the DCI headquarters.

The unit’s disbandment has elicited different reactions. While some people think it’s a good thing, others say it’s a prerequisite to the formation of another elite unit that will be tasked with cracking down on serious crimes in Kenya.

“I am hoping that as a former director of the Internal Affairs Unit, the new DCI boss can finally end the use of hit squads. The DCI has plenty of officers who can and have done real police work to get to the bottom of crimes. Disbanding SSU is a good step. Still, it is early days yet,” veteran investigative journalist John Allan Namu said.

“Amnesty Kenya welcomes the DCI SSU disbandment. The National Police Service must also audit SSU activities and publicly respond to allegations of responsibility for enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of many suspects,” the human rights organisation posted on Twitter.

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