Sunday October 3, 2021
The kidnapping of Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad unfolded in the full glare of a sizable crowd in Nairobi’s city centre.“Only God has saved me,” said Abdisamad, still in a trance-like state. “My reunion with my family is a testament to the fact that whatever evil-doers try to do to you the Almighty Allah is the ultimate giver and taker of life.”
Chillingly, the kidnappers’ initial intention was to murder the Horn of Africa expert within hours and throw his body away, according to Kenyan and Somali sources who spoke with The Sunday Standard.
But the abductors’ clumsy operation, the leaking of the mastermind’s identity and public uproar helped save Abdisamad’s life.
Abdisamad’s kidnapping appeared to be straight out of a horror movie. At 10am, as he walked on the red cobblestone pavement of Tubman Road next to the City Market -- thinking of crossing over to the other side onto a restaurant where he was to meet a friend -- two men came from the back and grabbed him by the hands. Two others thrust their hands at lightning speed into the pockets of his blue jacket and jeans to fish whatever was inside. Abdisamad had with him a pistol, two phones, one of them containing Sh11,000 in its mobile money account.
The tall and energetic Abdisamad, however, fought for his life in the belief that the assailants were hit men. He quickly butted one man across his face. Disoriented, the man released Abdisamad’s right hand, which he used to slap the other man. But before he could make any other move, the four men, amid Abdisamad’s cries for help, overpowered him and forced him into a waiting, white double-deck pick-up, his knee whacking the right edge of door, in the process. The crowd of onlookers watched the tussle, but didn’t intervene, with some even recording the dramatic scene.
Abdisamad continued to use his gangly legs while inside the car to resist the abductors’ attempt to close its door. The car sped off at breakneck speed, with Abdisamad’s fate firmly in his abductors’ hands.
“I sent out my message,” Abdisamad said. He sat, sandwiched between two kidnappers, his head covered with a hood, pleading with his captors to ease the handcuffs around his wrists.
The kidnappers’ team leader retorted: “We knew you are a security expert.” Lamenting explicitly to his fellow kidnappers, the team leader added: “It’s our mistake,” he said. “He (Abdisamad) shouldn’t have uttered a word. Now the public knows everything.”
That daytime brawl sparked off a 12-day horror of solitary confinement, a national outcry and anxiety that a once-regular presence on national and international TV stations was gone for good. Dozens of people protested almost every day in the streets of his home county, demanding that the government find Abdisamad.
“I said to myself immediately after they drove off the car, ‘your time is up’,” he said in an interview with The Sunday Standard.
Spread like wildfire
For months, many of Abdisamad’s friends had warned him that his critical views on Somalia’s opposition groups and on Ethiopia’s rebel group Tigray People’s Liberation Front could cost him his life. But Abdisamad, invoking the country’s liberal Constitution, dismissed such concerns until the four men – believed to be rogue security agents, snatched him.
The kidnapping occurred a little over 30 minutes after Abdisamad sent a fiery tweet on the TPLF and the appointment of a top official in Somali government. His abduction spread like wildfire, first among his relatives, then among Somali Kenyans, then among the larger Kenyans and the world. Efforts by his wife and relatives to geolocate him came up empty as his abductors switched off his two cell phones upon snatching him.
He would then be driven to an undisclosed location where his abductors kept him in a room for 12 days.
His wife, Halima Mohammed, accused a top government official in Mogadishu of being behind her husband’s abduction. Kenyan security agencies denied any involvement saying they knew nothing about Abdisamad’s seizure.
Scheme hatched in Somalia
According to a Kenyan security agent and two sources in Somalia, the operation to kidnap, then kill Abdisamad was orchestrated by a high-level official in Mogadishu. Negotiations between his representatives and would-be killers started as early as last April, with the working price to pick off Abdisamad and another former lawmaker from Garissa going for $500,000, according to sources.
The two parties -- four Kenyan agents and four Somalis, including two women, one based in Nairobi’s Eastleigh Estate and another in the United States – finally dropped the Garissa lawmaker ‘after he softened his tone against Somali opposition groups’. They zeroed in on Dr Abdisamad, settling on a $300,000 figure ‘to do away with him as urgently as possible.’
No time to lose
The kidnappers, who appeared in a hurry from the get-go, had no time to lose. After driving for about 35 minutes, they dumped Abdisamad in a 3 by 4 square meter, windowless room, an extension of a soundproof office with boarded-up windows. About an hour later, three men -- an interrogator, a stenographer and a doctor -- opened the door to the room. The interrogator sat Abdisamad on a metal electric chair and tied his hands to its side, but the doctor objected to that, saying: “No! He’s an old man. Sit him on the sofa.”
The interrogators asked him simple questions about who he was. The ‘doctor’ asked Abdisamad about his health and if he needed any medicine. When Abdisamad complained about a severe headache and pain in his right knee, the doctor gave him some Panadol tablets and applied some spray on his swollen knee. The severe pain in the knee made it difficult for him to pray while standing as required of capable Muslims. The doctor also bought for Abdisamad some medicine for his high blood pressure.
Three meals a day and interrogations
During his captivity, Abdisamad had three meals – some brown bread and tea with milk in a white paper cup between 8am and 8.30am, a rice and dango in a white disposable plate between 1pmand 2pm and ugali with kale in a disposable plate and a half-litre packet of milk between 8.30pm and 9pm. A cup of tea with milk was sometimes served at 4pm.
For three days, no one -- apart from the server who brought the food and medicine -- visited Abdisamad’s room, which was fitted with a camera and a loudspeaker. Abdisamad cleaned the toilet.
On Saturday – his fourth day in captivity – the door to Abdisamad’s room was flung open to reveal the server who quickly put a hood over his head before taking him out to the office area. For three hours, four men asked him questions about his personal history, his nationality, his educational background and if he had personal differences with a top official in Mogadishu.
Next, they asked him about a missing – presumed dead woman- who worked with Somalia’s security agencies.
“He’s brilliant, straightforward and honest,” remarked one of the interrogators before they told him the interview was over for that day.
On Wednesday, his eighth day in captivity, four interrogators visited him, this time using threats to strike fear into Abdisamad’s heart. They told him that he was at liberty to renounce his Kenyan citizenship or they could do it themselves. “Two countries have asked for your extradition – Ethiopia and Somalia,” they said. “We’re thinking of deporting you to one of them.”
Abdisamad tried to remain stoic. “They tried to bring the worst out of me, but I didn’t take their bait,” he said.
During the interrogation, the kidnappers went a long way to lend their actions an official stamp: A typist wrote Abdisamad’s responses on a laptop, while all conversations were tape-recorded. A day before Abdisamad’s release, one of the interviewees took his photos from all angles – from the front, from the left and right sides and from the back.
Operation financiers demur
According to sources in Kenya and Somalia, Abdisamad’s kidnappers met with the operation’s Nairobi-based Somali financiers to get their payment before they could kill him, but couldn’t quite agree with two captors. The hit squad is said to have got a cool $120,000, but less than the agreed-upon figure.
Meanwhile Abdisamad’s wife, Halima, spoke on a popular Somali-language TV station accusing a top government official in Mogadishu of hatching the scheme to kidnap her husband.
The clip began to do the rounds on social media and on WhatsApp groups, kicking up a storm.
Insomnia and days without showers
While Abdisamad’s family suffered emotionally from the lack of reliable information about their son’s whereabouts, he had his own challenges to contend with.
For the first three days, Abdisamad neither showered nor brushed his teeth. He didn’t change his clothes in the dozen days he was held. On the fourth day, the server brought him an old, used towel, a laundry bar soap, some toothpaste and a brush.
At night, anxiety and fear of the unknown kept him awake. During the day, he kept vigil and whenever the door to his room was opened, he murmured a prayer. Everyday, at around 9:00 a.m., he cleaned out his toilet. He then leant his 5-by-6 inch navy blue mattress against the wall and shuffled around the room for 30-minutes, to keep his injured knee active.
Powerless, Abdisamsad said, he surrendered his affairs and future to God.
Alone in his room, he constantly entreated God to return him alive to his children. He didn’t move his lips, when praying for fear that the camera keeping watch over him around the clock in the well-lit, stuffy room, will show that.
His thoughts sometimes drifted to his 80-year-old father, wondering if he had suffered a heart attack after hearing about his son’s abduction.
On Saturday, his 11th day of confinement, at around 3pm., the abductors returned with three demands: Don’t talk to the media. Don’t take us to court. Disengage from regional affairs. They threatened to kill him if he reneged on any of their demands and said that they had three options: To kill him or incite state agencies against him to make his life difficult.
“Think over them and give us your response tomorrow,” they told him and left.
Throughout the ordeal, the abductors and their faux interrogators didn’t physically harm Abdisamad and appeared to treat him with respect. The kidnappers several times falsely told him that they would release him, but none of those promises were true.
“I despaired and resigned to my fate,” said Abdisamad.
At 8p on Sunday evening, his 12th and last day, Abdisamad’s heart sank as it always did whenever he heard the door to his room being opened.
“What is your final word?’’ came the first question, to which Abdisamad promptly responded: “Is it the final word on my life or the final word on my captivity.”
Then came the bone-chilling reply: “Your final word on your life.”
Startled and confused, Abdisamad jabbered about the dangers of unlawful kidnappings ”Lawlessness destroys nations. Don’t destroy this beautiful nation,” Abdisamad, exhorted the abductors.
Uninterested in hearing more of his harangues, they cut him short and declared, “We’re not interested in your life. Tell us your last word on your captivity.”
“Give me my freedom back, return me to my family or take me to court if I am guilty of any crime,” Abdisamad said.
Minutes later, the kidnappers put him in a car, still hooded, and drove off with him. On the way , they repeated their three conditions warning him against talking to the media. “If you talk to the media, you will be a hero in a week, but we will kill you after that,” they warned, as the car drove off.
While in the car, the abductors slipped his pistol and two cell phones – after removing their sim cards – into the pockets of his jacket.
After an hour and a half ride, the car pulled up in a dark area of the road and the kidnappers removed Abdisamad’s hood, gave him Ksh 2,000 shillings and ordered him to disembark.
“Take that motorbike to your home,” one of them said, pointing to a motorbike parked on the opposite side of the road.
The motorbike dropped Abdisamad off at the gate of his South C estate and he gave the rider Sh 300.
The guard, however, had difficulty in recognising the disheveled man standing at the gate.
“I live here,” Abdisamad assured the guard. He started limping towards his home, his hands struggling to keep his pants from dropping. (The abductors didn’t return his belt.)
As he entered the estate, the headlights of a car driven by his sister -- who had earlier visited his house and was on her way home -- caught a figure she recognised as her missing brother. She jumped out of the car, blubbering like an excited child, and enfolded him in her arms.
After she calmed down, she asked him to give her a minute to alert other family members. Their missing kin had returned.