Macharia Gaitho: We need to look at anti-terror Bill

WE MARK THE TENTH anniversary of the August 7, 1998 bomb attacks with some rather interesting development in the war against terror in Kenya.

One of the most wanted criminals in the world, Fazul Abdullah, is believed to have narrowly escaped capture when police raided a hideout in Malindi.

That police just narrowly missed capturing the monster responsible for the twin suicide bomb attacks on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and the 2001 attack on the Paradise Hotel near Mombasa, may well provide cheer that the war on terror is making progress.

Not so comforting, however, is the fact that the elusive Fazul got away, again; and, worse, that he apparently has been able to travel into and out of Kenya at will and may even have been plotting a new attack on the country.

The incident offers us a very stark reminder that the Fazuls of this world are right in our midst and ready to blow me, you and everybody else all to smithereens to score some demented political points.

At some point in the past, we may have viewed terrorism as something that afflicts foreign lands, the result of some dispute originating somewhere in the Middle East, one that should not bother us.

The facts, as we have painfully learnt, are rather different. Terrorism has come to our doorsteps and not just as some foreign import; it has it’s home-grown soldiers – for want of a better word – and sympathisers.

A quick look at arrested terrorist suspects since the bombings 10 years ago reveal that a good number have been Kenyan-born and bred.

Fazul and others of his ilk would not have been able to plant their deadly bombs and kill innocent Kenyans without plenty of local help. That he can find refuge and the freedom to operate in Kenya is testimony to the kind of local support networks in existence.

Our porous borders with the failed state and terrorist haven of Somalia, as well as historical ethnic and religious links stretching to the Middle East, make it easy for proselytisation and infiltration by which the warped ideology has made solid inroads into this country.

Whenever the country has been thrown into mourning after past terrorism acts, there has always been a grouping loudly cheering the infamy; holding up posters of Osama bin Laden and burning the Stars and Stripes though fellow Kenyans have been victims of a far away conflict they care a little about.

That is the kind of support that makes the war on terrorism difficult. And we are not here talking about some underground lunatic fringe, but very open and mainstream thinking.

EVERY TIME POLICE MAKE TERRORist arrests, there will be some uproar about alleged persecution of Muslims. Lobbyists and human rights activists will be out in force decrying police tactics and reducing everything to a religious conflict.

The war against terror has further been made less effective by lack of adequate legal and security mechanisms. The proposed anti-terrorism Bill turned out to be dead in the water, hammered relentlessly by groups which feared it posed a threat to their activities.

Institutional weaknesses in both the security agencies and the Attorney-General’s chambers have meant that even self-confessed terrorists taken to our courts are usually likely to walk free.

At the risk of sounding very far from politically correct, I would venture that it time we looked at the anti-terrorism Bill afresh. We are not going to conquer terrorism and other serious crimes unless we have the legal machinery to deal with offences not envisaged by the current Penal Code.

I would go further and suggest that we have laws clearly defining activities that are anti-Kenyan, and that would include terrorism and support for terrorism.

We have been terrified in the past of offending some groupings because they will always come out loudly playing the injured party or making all kinds of threats. The whimpering, politically-correct approach dictated by fear of intolerant grouping has not won us any respite, as evidenced by continuing terrorist plots against Kenya.

It is time we stopped being shy about prosecuting the war on terror. There can be no compromise on the war that must be fought to keep Kenya free of terror.

This, for us, is not an American, Israeli or British war. As long as it threatens to spill blood on our soil, then it is Kenyan war; and those inclined to side with those who plot to kill their fellow Kenyans deserve no less than treason charges.

This does not mean, however, that we should be indifferent to the issues in the Middle East. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own free of Israeli repression. Israel deserves secure borders. US meddling that has fuelled terrorism across the globe must be halted.

But we can do without a demented bunch that has exploited a legitimate grievance as an excuse for satisfying its own bloodlust around the world.

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