Boys rescued from Kenya's Islamic school of torture - Independent, UK
Boys rescued from Kenya's Islamic school of torture
By Declan Walsh in Nairobi
30 January 2003
Eleven teenage boys have been rescued from an Islamic correction centre in Nairobi where they were chained, tortured, and indoctrinated with violent anti-Christian ideas. Armed police raided the school in a rundown Nairobi neighbourhood after Guleed Ahmed, a 16-year-old from Leicester, faked an illness to escape and raise the alarm.
Inside they found 10 other boys, from Kenya, Sweden and Ethiopia, chained by their hands and feet and confined to a dark, foul-smelling room.
"It was really terrible," Guleed said yesterday. "They locked my hands and legs like this" he clasped his ankles and wrists together "all day, every day, even when I sleep. It lasted eight months."
Abdi Noor, a wiry 13-year-old from northern Kenya, nodded furiously. "Even when we go to the toilet, we go jumping," he said. "They would only unlock us at the door."
The school, the Khadija Islamic Institute of Discipline and Education, was in Eastleigh, a rough and dangerous neighbourhood dominated by ethnic Somalis. As police led the boys out last Monday, an angry crowd pelted them with stones, forcing officers to fire warning shots in the air.
But senior Muslims have expressed their abhorrence at the way the school was run, stressing it was an anomaly among thousands of well-run Islamic schools.
The headteacher, named by students as Mowlid Abdi Ahmed, has been arrested and is expected to be charged with cruelty. Fourteen other staff are believed to have fled.
Guleed, whose family lives in Britain but who holds a Dutch passport, is being looked after by the Dutch embassy. He had no documents with him and Dutch authorities are trying to trace his mother.
Relatives had sent the teenagers to Khadija Institute to learn about Islam. Little did they know the sub-prison conditions to which they were subjected them. Schooling involved study of the Koran, with some lessons in English, Arabic and maths, always with their arms bound in chains. Sport was impossible.
Meals were spartan and usually accompanied by a thrashing. "They cane you on the head, back, legs, bottom, everywhere," Guleed said. "How many times, it was impossible to know many. They called it 'the medicine'."
He had been attending Babington Community College in Leicester before his mother took him to Nairobi last summer, he said. But when she called every month, the teachers would stand over the phone. "They told me if you say something bad, we will beat you up. You tell her you love the school and you're learning to be a good Muslim."
He finally escaped by faking a heart ailment and forcing teachers to take him to a medical centre, where doctors alerted police.
Hashim Ali, 16, who lived in Stockholm for 12 years before an uncle enrolled him in Khadija last June, said the killing of Christians was glorified in the school. "They told us it's called jihad," he said. "They said if you enter a church with bombs and kill yourself, you will go to heaven."
Sometimes al-Qa'ida was mentioned during lectures, he added, but because they were in Arabic he did not understand the meaning. He once tried to write a letter to the Swedish embassy. Scars on his chin, forehead and back testified to the beating he suffered after being discovered. "There is nothing wrong with Islam; it's just these people," he said.
Kenya has a long tradition of Muslim tolerance and senior religious figures expressed their abhorrence at the reports. "This is just as shocking for us Muslims as anyone else," said Saad Khairallah of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. "Children and women are respected in Islam." A council official was investigating the circumstances under which the school operated, he added.
Last November's terrorist bomb attack against tourists at a Mombasa hotel in which 18 people died has raised fears in Kenya of a surge in extremism, influenced by hardliners from neighbouring Somalia. Three of the six attack suspects are Kenyan, and at least one is thought to have fled to Somalia.
Kenya's ability to guard against terrorist attacks has also come into question. Several Western embassies have warned their citizens to be cautious, and yesterday the New Zealand cricket team said it would refuse to play a game scheduled for 21 February in Nairobi unless the venue was changed.
Martin Snedden, chief executive of the national team, said: "There are various complications because we are under a World Cup contract but our top priority must be the safety of our players."
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