Woolwich suspect Michael Adebolajo's Kenya links

  • 29 May 2013
  • From the section Africa
Media captionBBC's Gabriel Gatehouse reports from the island of Pate where Adebolajo was detained

Few outsiders venture into the waters northeast of Lamu, in the direction of Somalia. That was especially true in 2010, when al Shabab, the Islamist militants with links to al-Qaeda, were at the height of their power.

But Michael Adebolajo did. He would have made the same journey we did, through mangrove-covered creeks along the coastline, passing the occasional wooden fishing dhow on the way.

He landed at Pate island on 20 November 2010, at a place called Faza. It is a small fishing community, close-knit and tight-lipped, where little passes unnoticed.

That would turn out to be his undoing.

Mr Adebolajo was accompanied by five other men, all Kenyan citizens.

Bakar Ahmed, a local man, was approached by one of the Kenyans and asked to find accommodation for the group.

Mr Ahmed obliged, and showed them the way to a guesthouse, where the six men spent the night.

He was arrested for his trouble, as were the owners of the guesthouse. All three were later released without charge.

"I told [police] I don't know anything about them or their activities," he told us.

On Tuesday, the guesthouse was shuttered and empty, the owners lying low, keen to avoid attention. Any association with al Shabab, however slight, can land you in jail here.

Local tip-off

The following day, Mr Adebolajo and his companions made their way to another village, Kizingitini, where officials told the BBC a boat was ready and waiting for them.

But, thanks to a tip-off from a local resident, so were the police.

"If they see any unknown visitors in their area they alert the police," said Joseph Sigei, who, as the senior police officer in the Lamu district, oversaw the arrests.

"So when they saw these men asking for a boat - they were looking for a boat to Somalia - they passed the report immediately to police."

A security source in Nairobi estimated that the Kenyan authorities have detained thousands of people suspected of attempting to make the journey to Somalia illegally since the start of al Shabab's activities in 2006.

"We suspected they were going to Somalia to join al Shabab," Mr Sigei said. "Because we have been arresting so many. They are going for military training and then eventually they come back."

Image caption Michael Adebolajo landed at Pate island on 20 November 2010.
Image caption Mr Adebolajo and five other men all stayed at this guesthouse in Faza.
Image caption After leaving Faza, the men went to Kizingitini, where a boat was ready and waiting to take them to Somalia.
Image caption The police were tipped off by a local.
Image caption Kenyan authorities have detained thousands of people suspected of attempting to make the journey to Somalia illegally.
Image caption Mr Adebolajo was reportedly going to Somalia to join al Shabab.
Image caption Kizingitini is a tranquil, close-knit village.

On Tuesday afternoon, the village of Kizingitini was a picture of tranquillity. Children in green and white uniforms streamed out of a primary school. Men worked on their boats, mending hulls and nets.

But in 2010, this was a lawless area, a free-for-all for pirates and a gateway for would-be jihadists.

If Mr Adebolajo was indeed attempting to make his way to Somalia to fight, it seems his aims were thwarted on this occasion.

But many others succeeded. In 2011, British security sources estimated around 100 UK nationals had made the journey to join al-Shabab in Somalia. And Kenya was known as the preferred route.