In an investigation that took six months, Star correspondent Kassim Mohamed uncovers two cocky and aggressive criminal gangs operating in Eastleigh that kill, rob and maim residents and visitors alike with reckless abandon.
Eastleigh is regarded as the fastest growing business hub in Nairobi with emerging skyscrapers. Tens of buildings are under construction and the streets are dotted with shopping malls. But amid the glittering window panes and the booming business lies a tale of fear. Residents are faced with a daily dilemma of dealing with two criminal gangs that are now a menace to businesses.
The body of 19-year-old Maslah Sheikh was found one Sunday morning at Eastleigh’s teeming 12th Street roundabout. The body was unrecognisable as it was stabbed on almost every inch from head to toe, his eyes were gouged and his ears were hanging by a thread.
Those who woke up to the horrific scene say the faint-hearted vomited and an elderly woman fainted upon seeing the body. Abdullahi Ali, who was among the first to see the body, embarked on a mission to identify it.
Ali removed his shirt and used it as improvised gloves to flip the body. Beneath it he found Maslah’s wallet. It had his new national identity card and a small sheet of paper with the phone numbers of two of his friends. In a matter of minutes, Ali informed one of the contacts about their friend’s death and the news spread. Maslah’s mum lives in Saudi Arabia but his cousins took up the burial arrangements.
As Maslah’s body was lowered into the grave at the Kariokor Muslim cemetery, those in attendance were still in shock at the brutal way he was murdered. A few individuals who heard him scream for help when he was being stabbed said his assailants were young men in their twenties.
“I was walking to catch the morning bus to Garissa and I saw a group of men with knives all on him. They were stabbing and raising their arms to jab again. He was wailing for help but everybody was scared,’’ said one man who identified himself as Badaar. “After making sure he was dead, they slowly walked towards 11th street. I couldn’t comprehend how a group of people could kill and walk away as if nothing happened.’’
Ibrahim Abdi, Maslah’s cousin, holds on to a picture they took together in Mandera days before he met his death. The full-length shot shows Maslah wearing a grey trousers, a t-shirt with blue, yellow and green stripes. In the picture, Maslah is smiling.
“He came to visit us in Mandera and we really had a wonderful time. Maslah was a football fanatic and dribbled the ball like the Brazilian soccer star Denilson,’’ says Ibrahim while clearing his throat to narrate the ordeal.
Maslah had just finished his O-level exams and the former student of Arya Boys used to receive a few hundred dollars monthly from his mother in Saudi Arabia. He was known to many of his friends as a fashion lover with an outgoing attitude. The fact that he was receiving money didn’t go down well with some members of a criminal gang in Eastleigh.
Maslah had confided to his cousin a few days earlier that he was receiving threats from a gang who were demanding that he join their group or pay them a monthly stipend for refusing to be part of them.
“They told him he will regret but Maslah never bothered. He wanted to join university in the United States and was not paying attention to them. I wish I knew exactly who killed him.”
Maslah was accosted as he was on his way back from the mosque in 12th Street where he attended morning prayers. His killers remain at large.
In a different area of Eastleigh, 53-year-old Ahmed Ali Shariff was shot in the head in broad daylight. The renowned businessman was on his way to a commercial bank to deposit money but didn’t make it. He was shot several times just a few metres from the door of the bank. The businessman ran a wholesale shop on Eastleigh’s 11th Street, petrol station along 4th Street, a wholesale shop in Mandera and was also involved in livestock trade.
The killings of Maslah and Shariff in Eastleigh are just examples of unexplained murders that torment the residents of this Nairobi neighbourhood.
The residents - largely the Somali business community - blame the upsurge of killings on two dreaded gangs that have been terrorising residents and visitors alike. The gangs, namely Superpowers and Sky, are not just a threat to the hard-earned businesses, but have also instilled endless fear in Eastleigh residents.
Posing as a new recruit of the Superpowers, I gained the confidence of some of its leaders and spent 15 days on and off with the gang, albeit with fear.
It’s 4pm on Eastleigh’s Jam Street and a group of about 25 youth converge in the shade of a building adjacent to Al-hidaya mosque. This is a meeting for some members of Superpowers. A young man in dark jeans, white sneakers and a body-hugging t-shirt with a husky voice is giving instructions to those present.
“We must start our operation. We have to make sure we get money and I am talking about millions. Fear no one,” he tells those present and continues to scold a young man, “you made a mistake yesterday. How come you freed the man your team mugged? You should have immobilised him. Now he might report what you did to the Flying Squad.”
This is Bigshow, one of the leaders of the group. He is assisted by Shafici, another young man feared by many who have had a brush with him.
Ten minutes into the gathering, an old man emerges from a corner; he’s carrying a brown envelope with a bulge and a walking stick that matches his black shirt. Bigshow directs a teenager to take the lead in mugging the old man. As the old man approaches, the teenager trips him and in seconds, the envelope is in the hands of Bigshow who in turn gave it to Shafici.
“Why are you doing this to me?” says the old man while still struggling to stand up. Bigshow then kicks him thrice and the old man falls flat on his stomach. The no-nonsense robber dared the old man to raise the alarm.
The old man then begged him for mercy. “Just don’t kill me. Don’t kill me,” he said in a cracking voice.
All this time, the other gang members including the teenager who tripped the old man are laughing their hearts out while watching the unfolding scenario. Passersby are either fleeing or are too scared to intervene. Bigshow then told the old man to disappear. Confused and desperate the old man quickly stood on his feet and made his way towards the main road that leads to the famous shopping mall- Garissa Lodge.
The loot was Sh350,000. The money wasn’t shared at that point but left with Shafici though it was counted in the presence of everyone. Bigshow and his gang then convened again and agreed to meet at Marie Stopes area in the evening at around 8pm.
Before dispersing, one of the gang members was instructed to bring a pistol. According to Bigshow, the weapon was to be hired from a plainclothes police officer living within Eastleigh at a cost of Sh30,000. “You know the man, right? Just go tell him he will get the money after our operation tonight,” said Bigshow to a young gang member.
Afraid to be caught in what was to transpire that evening, I left the gang and decided to monitor things from the rooftop of a building close to the venue where they were meeting. By 8.30pm, my eyes caught youth milling around their target area but my vision was blurred as there was a power blackout. A few hours later, gunshots rent the air and people ran helter-skelter.
The next morning, Omar Ahmed, a local resident, reported his brother was missing. Abdirashid was shot, that is according to two men who were having dinner at a local restaurant.
Eyewitnesses said a group of young men stabbed him severally while he was lying on the ground. Police officers from Huruma police station collected the body but later transferred it to their colleagues from the Pangani police station when their car developed mechanical hitch.
The long search began to locate his brother’s body. Omar and the men who witnessed the murder went to Huruma police station but weren’t lucky.
“The officer at the crime office told us he didn’t have any information on the case. He however told us the officers who were on patrol the night before were off duty and that we should come back later,” a distraught Omar said.
What followed were six days of painstaking intelligence gathering by Omar and his family members. They moved from one police station to another. They finally got information from an officer based at Pangani police station who told them Abdirashid’s body had been taken to the city mortuary.
“The mortuary attendants told us to pay Sh35,000 for us to get the body. They said it was a Saturday and that if we didn’t pay them, we would wait until Tuesday. We paid the amount because we wanted to bury my brother’s body as fast as possible according to the Islamic teachings,” Omar said.
The family of Abdirashid says no one has been arrested in connection with the murder of their kin and believes police officers who patrol Eastleigh don’t pay attention to curbing crime but are concerned with lining their pockets. A number of residents the Star spoke to said police officers are happy to be assigned to Eastleigh because they receive bribes.
Every time a crime happens, residents beg police for help, but officers failed to tackle the gangs, letting the binge-drinking, drug-taking teenagers run uncontrolled to terrorise families.
In the 15 days the Star crew spent with Superpowers, they were involved in several attacks and two of the victims were left with deep wounds. In one incident, one person they robbed of Sh286,000 at Mash shopping centre reported to two police officers who were in the vicinity at that time but he didn’t get any help. The two police officers were paid Sh40,000 by the gang. The policemen then told the man who was robbed to take his case to Kasarani or Pangani police stations. They told him bluntly there was nothing they could do to help him or else they would arrest him and take him to the police station. The man went into a profuse diatribe castigating the policemen. The Star couldn’t confirm which station the policemen were from.
The organised crime that has taken deep root in Eastleigh has also given some policemen a hard time. It’s easier to blame the men in uniform but they are not spared by the criminals either. A member of Sky, the second biggest criminal gang that operates on 9th and 10th streets of Eastleigh, says they dragged a police officer called Mutua and confisticated his gun.
“He was one of the few policemen who used to flout our operations and he paid the price. We sent some of our members to meet him at 12th Street at night and offered him cigarettes, cocaine and bottles of beer,” said Kamau, a Sky gang member. He said the officer lost consciousness after a few drinks and several puffs.
“Our boys took the gun and we still have it. We also got reports that he has been fired from his job.” His statement was confirmed by a member of the Eastleigh Business Community who wanted to remain anonymous.
The business leader told the Star the few policemen who are committed to fighting crime in the area face an uphill battle from the gang who target them. According to Kamau, the affected police officer was from Pangani police station.
We contacted the Starehe OCPD Joseph Nyaga based at Pangani to confirm if the claims made were true but the said he could not speak about the matter especially now when Kenya is at war with al Shabaab.
“All I know is security is under control and I can’t comment further. The Provincial Police Officer is the right person to answer your questions,” said Nyaga. We went to the PPO’s office on several occasions but we were told he was not available.
Insecurity is a big challenge; robbery, muggings and occasional death paint a grim picture. Ahmed Yakub was shot inside his shop on October 24, 2010. Mohamed Guyo who worked with the Kenya Army who was passing by was also shot dead.
In September 2010, two security guards and three shoppers were killed bringing the total number of those killed to seven within two months.
On February 2, 2011, armed robbers attacked businesses in Easleigh. They killed one businessman and injured another. The businessman died on the way to hospital after he was shot in the head. The same day five shops were robbed.
On June 26, 2011, three people were killed by an unknown gang. The residents woke up to bullet shells and broken doors. The gang, according to witnesses, attacked residents in the night and made away with approximately Sh16 million in cash and valuables.
The robbers even forced passersby to help them break into the shops. The ordeal that started at 4pm lasted for hours with no police intervention.
Superpowers and Sky may not be responsible for all the killings and robbery in Eastleigh, but they play a big role in creating a state of insecurity in this vibrant business hub.
In the second part of this series tomorrow, read why the youth join the criminal gangs and the initiatives taken by the community to guard their businesses and preach some normalcy into the heads of the gang members.