Shimo La Tewa is the only maximum security prison in the Coast province holding the hardest, most dangerous convicts in the province. Currently incarcerated at “Shimo” as it is known by residents are international jihadists, pirates, terrorism masterminds and soldiers court martialed for desertion.
As fate would have it, Shimo la Tewa holds one of the most dangerous terrorism suspect in Kenya, Jermaine Grant. An associate of Samantha Lewthwaite also known as “white widow.” She is suspected to be the mastermind behind the Westgate and Garissa University killings that have claimed over 200 people so far. Grant is serving a 2 year jail term after he pleaded guilty in December 2011 to charges of being in the country illegally and lying about his nationality.
He is also on trial for other terrorism related charges. Grant, became radicalized as a teenager when he was in prison with British terrorist Richard Reid famously known as the shoe bomber. It is alleged that Grant is flipping the script in Kenya by radicalizing prisoners right inside the walls of Shimo la Tewa. Most of the dangerous criminals are held in Block E of the jail. However, from that block the radicalism network is quite strong inside the prison and prisoners involved are targeting young, first time offenders for indoctrination. Jermaine Grant is currently named as the radicalisation master mind in Shimo la Tewa.
The prison lacks an isolation block for terrorism suspects therefore, they are able to mingle with other prisoners and spread their ideology to other prisoners. The United States recognized the danger terrorism suspects pose in prisons and thus came up with Guantanamo Bay as prisons are a fertile ground for radicalisation and ideological influences.
Shimo la Tewa is also crowded making the control of this situation much more difficult. The radicals are able to freely hold sessions with fellow inmates whom they indoctrinate into jihadism. Already, some of the newly radicalized elements are out of prison and have rejoined the population.
The terror suspects are also in the same cell with army men who were jailed for desertion. One shudders to imagine what will happen if trained soldiers who have worked as military contractors in Afghanistan become radicalized! In addition, these soldiers could be passing valuable military skills to the suspects.
This alleged radicalisation has been made possible by the immense influence some of these suspects wield. They allegedly are able to bribe their way through and carry out their clandestine activities unchecked. Usually a warden is approached and promised a huge sum of money for cooperation. The inmates are able to arrange MPesa transfer to the wardens family or a designated number and the amounts they pay are too good for most prison staff to say no.
Internal security minister Joseph Nkaiserry has got wind of the radicalisation and was recently quoted,
“I’ve been briefed that there has been radicalisation. This is one facility that has foreign criminals who are very dangerous and that is why we plan to increase security and improve the perimeter wall.”
It is alleged that criminals in block E have attempted to break out twice this year and improving the perimeter wall will secure them from the rest of the people. However, the minister needs to urgently address the matter of an isolation block for terrorism suspects in the prison.
The danger for the citizens is clear and present as no one knows what the ones that have been released are up to as there’s little done to track inmates once they leave prison in Kenya. The justice system is turning thieves, fraudsters, vandals and time offenders into radical jihadists ready to commit atrocities like we’ve witnessed recently. This is a massive own goal in the fight against terror.