Somali war: The Nairobi financiers

Twelve extremist Islamic Sheikhs based in Nairobi's Eastleigh area – popularly known as "little Mogadishu " – control and disburse cash worth millions of dollars, money which in is used to finance war and possible terrorist activities in Somalia, The Leader can reveal today.

The money, laundered through illegal Forex bureau and other illicit money transfer channels operated from Eastleigh, is then channeled to various warring groups in the troubled Somalia. It was also the money used to finance the Union of Islamic Courts which has since been driven out of power in Mogadishu.

Sources say the money inevitably ends in as dangerous hands as those of al-Qaeda's, the world most feared terrorist grouping.

From our investigations, the Sheikhs arrived in the country from Somalia one balmy afternoon in 1992, a year after the collapse of the Said Barre regime in Mogadishu, the last time Somalia was ruled by a central authority.

The Sheikhs were responsible for the sudden construction boom that took place in Eastleigh in the better part of the last decade and transformed the once seedy slum into modern business village, complete with satellite television and related high-tech facilities.

Once settled in Nairobi, the Sheikhs embarked on financing war and other illicit activities in their native country. Only a month ago, they facilitated the recruitment of tens of Somalis in Kenya to prop up the ousted Islamic courts. The recruited youths were smuggled via Garissa, according to Eastleigh-based taxi drivers who were paid Shs 10,000 one-way to do the job.

The 12 Sheikhs rule Eastleigh from the comfort and safety of posh buildings in the city's central business district. They are also often out of the country to "transact" business in Somalia and in select Middle East countries.

Once they established themselves, the men from Somalia, bankrolled by an invisible investor or group of investors, took control of Eldoret Airport and made it a conduit for assorted illicit cargo.

Their activities have, to a large extent, contributed to the flooding of the Kenyan market with sub-standard goods including clothes, motor vehicle spare parts, tyre tubes, shoes, traveling bags and cosmetics.

In the event, the Sheikhs have sidelined businessmen who traditionally controlled such business niches. The first casualties were members of the Indian community who, over the years, have closed down their business premises by the hundred and the majority relocated to Canada.

Eastleigh's cash "transit points" have been duplicated in all main towns of North Eastern province, in Mombasa and at Lamu border-points with Somalia.

Just before the 2002 general elections, the US State Department questioned the Kenyan government on why no action was taken to establish the source of funds for the construction boom in Eastleigh. Sources say the FBI and other forensic investigators repeatedly informed the government of the worrying trend.

Sources who are experts on trans-national terrorism say the globalization of trade, communication and finance, has enabled these businessmen to take advantage of the gaps within national legal systems to do their thing. And where one country has inconveniently stiff laws, they simply relocate part of their activities to a State that is more lax, exploiting the weakest link in its laws.

Though Kenya has a fairly water-tight banking system and well guarded airports, it's proximity to lawless Somalia and the long stretch of porous border between the two countries inevitably makes it the epicenter of illegal activities associated with terrorism, including money-laundering and arms smuggling.

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