Rights group accuses FBI of involvement in secret transfers of Kenyan bomb suspects to Uganda

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Mohammed Hamid Suleiman was beaten down by police outside his Nairobi home, and his wife's attempts to intercede were met with a cocked gun.

The next time Zuhura Suleiman saw her husband was on the front page of a Ugandan newspaper — as one of the suspects in the bombing attacks that killed 76 people watching the World Cup final on television.

Human rights organizations say that eight out of 13 Kenyans charged with offenses in Uganda related to the attacks were taken there illegally, and that the FBI appears to have heavy involvement in the investigation.

Members of Kenya's Muslim community have expressed outrage and fear following the arrests and extraditions.

"It made me wonder if being a Muslim does not make me a Kenyan. What future is there for our children if this is the way the government is going to treat us?" said Zuhura, 37.

The Somali al-Qaida-linked insurgent group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the July 11 attacks and said they were to avenge the deaths of Somali civilians killed by shelling by African Union peacekeepers, a force primarily made up of Ugandan troops.

After the attacks, Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit swept up suspects, and rights groups say those arrested were extradited to Uganda without any court proceedings or legal representation. Activists say they believe Uganda is being used as a base to interrogate people of interest to the Kenyan security forces and the FBI.

Hassan Omar Hassan, an official with the government-funded Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, says one suspect was arrested by police a week ago, gagged and hooded, according to a sworn statement in court by a witness. Hassan says the man's wife didn't learn of his whereabouts until five days later when he was charged in a Ugandan court.

"We live in fear that there is no law in Kenya to secure the safety and security of Muslims, not from thugs or thieves, but from the impunity and hooliganism of Kenyan security forces," said a joint statement Wednesday from several Muslim organizations, including the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and National Muslim Leaders Forum.

The groups claim that security forces are "trailing Muslims, pouncing on them, beating them, placing hoods over their heads and then rushing them to Uganda."

Kenya's government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, defended the transfers, saying that regional governments are allowed to hand over suspects under security provisions in a treaty forming a common market known as the East African Community.

However, rights lawyer Mbugua Mureithi said the government spokesman's interpretation of the treaty is incorrect and that the treaty requires states to follow extradition laws.

Mureithi himself was detained in Uganda a week ago with rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi after the two traveled there to represent Kenyans facing terrorism-related charges. Mureithi said he was interrogated in the presence of an FBI agent and that three of the Kenyans he was representing told him that they were interrogated five times by foreigners who introduced themselves as FBI agents.

Days after the bombings, the FBI's New York office and the New York Police Department said that a team of investigators, including forensic experts, from the city's Joint Terrorism Task Force was en route to Uganda to assist authorities with the probe.

A U.S. government spokesman denied that any FBI agents were present when Mureithi was questioned, and denied any involvement in the detention of the activists.

"No representative of any agency of the U.S. government met with, directed, was present or was involved in any way in the arrest, detention, or questioning of Al-Amin Kimathi and Mbugua Mureithi," said U.S. spokesman John Haynes.

Haynes said he did not have any immediate comment on allegations of U.S. involvement in the transfer of other Kenyan suspects to Uganda.

Mureithi was deported fours days after he was arrested, while Kimathi, a prominent human rights activist, was charged in a Ugandan court on Monday in connection with the bombings.

The U.S. State Department's 2009 Human Rights Report lists torture and the abuse of suspects as some of the serious human rights problems in Uganda. The report also says the country carries out arbitrary and politically motivated arrests, and that suspects suffer from being held incommunicado and lengthy pretrial detention.

Clara Gutteridge, an investigator for Reprieve, a U.K.-based human rights group, said that U.S. agents have been closely involved in the raids where some of the victims were originally apprehended.

"They have also been involved in the interrogations of many of the detained individuals and appear to have a significant degree of control over the prisoners," Gutteridge said in a statement on Thursday.

She said it was similar to the unlawful transfers of more than 100 people suspected of involvement in terrorism who were arrested in Kenya while escaping war in Somalia in 2006-07.

Those arrested were put in chartered planes and flown to Somalia, then to secret prisons in Ethiopia where they were interrogated by FBI and CIA agents.

"In both 2007 and current renditions, the Kenyan government is playing an operative role in the illegal transfer of its own citizens to situations where they are being denied basic rights and are at high risk of torture," she said.