Three Kenyans accused of procuring a drone to be used by Al Shabaab charged

Three individuals accused of importing a drone from South Africa for use by the al Shabaab terror group to conduct its activities will defend themselves at the Kahawa court beginning March 6.

Plans by the three Kenyans namely; Shueib Rashid Haji, Dekow Sheikh Abdirahman and John Kibe Kahiga were thwarted by the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) on October 27 last year when they were arrested at an undisclosed location within the country and arraigned at the anti-terror court where detectives sought for three days to probe the matter.

On November 30, 2023, they were charged with eight counts of terror-related charges and the acquisition of restricted goods including a DJI Matrice drone from South Africa before Senior Principal Magistrate Boaz Ombewa.

Shueib and Dekow are facing three charges each of conspiring to commit a terror attack, provision of property and services for the commission of a terrorist act and soliciting and giving support for the commission of a terrorist act contrary to the Prevention of Terrorist Act while Kibe is facing two charges of conspiring with others outside the Republic of Kenya to acquire restricted goods namely a drone from the Republic of South Africa for the purposes of committing a terrorist act and unloading unrestricted goods after importation.

On Tuesday, the three appeared in court for further directions and the case was pushed to February 26 for another pre-trial mention ahead of its hearing on March 6 and March 8 this year.

Both Dekow, an employee of ASCC Logistics in Nairobi and Kibe, a clearing and forwarding agent based at Lungalunga are said to have assisted Shueib, a resident of Hargadera Refugee camp in clearing the consignment meant for delivery to Al Shabaab upon arrival into the country.

A DJI Matrice is a modern state-of-the-art drone fitted with multiple high-performance sensors, hybrid zoom capabilities, high endurance capabilities making it ideal for easy transportation and use even at a distance of up to seven kilometers.

Its makers, DJI insist that it is manufactured for civilian use but the firm was flagged by the US State Department of Defense last year after linking it to 59 Chinese military Companies operating covertly as civilian entities in the United States.

The company protested the move saying it has never marketed or sold products for combat use in any country and that it takes active steps to try to keep its drones from being modified for use as weapons.

“DJI is not a military company in China, the United States or anywhere else. We stand ready to formally challenge this inclusion on this list. We are also aware of various reports of our drones being modified with attachments that can carry weapons on them.”

“We need to point out that we cannot influence how our drones are being used once they leave our control. We take regulatory compliance very seriously, and have emphasized to our distribution network that they must block any sale or maintenance to customers that may try to use our drones to cause harm,” the statement dated November 3, stated in part.

Drones otherwise referred to as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are important tools for use in data collection and research for security purposes, entertainment, agricultural production and climate change mitigation measures but they can be misused by criminals to conduct illegal surveillance or terror attacks and organized criminal activities at targeted locations.

To prevent those procured from running the risk of endangering the public, the government has regulated their use under the Civil Aviation Act requiring that those eligible to own them are Kenyan citizens above the age of 18 years, locally registered companies of state or county government owned.

“A person shall not import a UAS or a component thereof without a permit issued by the authority and before issuing the permit, the authority shall seek and obtain the necessary clearance and approval from the Ministry for the time being responsible for matters relating to defense,” the Act states in part.

The validity of the issued permit can be cancelled by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) if the owner violates the regulations when the owner intends to register it in another state and in the interest of national security.

Any person who operates a drone for commercial activities or hire is required to obtain a Remote Aircraft Operators Certificate (ROC) from the Authority.

Anyone found contravening these regulations is liable to pay sh2 million or spend six months in prison or both.

In February last year, KCAA confirmed that the country had licensed 200 drones in the country declaring the rest illegal.

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