Uncovering the bomb suspect

Saturday July 31 2010

cap:The house where Ssenkumba (R) grew up in Butambala

The house where Ssenkumba (R) grew up in Butambala. PHOTO BY A. SSENKABIRWA 

By Al-mahdi Ssenkabirwa

Ali Issa Ssenkumba , the prime suspect in the July 11 twin bombings that left at over 75 people dead and another 50 injured is a rural man who regularly took Pakistanis to his village mosque in Mirembe in the newly created Butambala District, according to investigations carried out by Saturday Monitor.

Col. Musa Nsubuga, the secretary for defence Mirembe village, told this newspaper, that Ssenkumba visited the village two weeks to the July 11 bombings. “He regularly brought a team of Pakistanis to our village mosque to preach to us and I last saw him here in the last week of June,” Col. Nsubuga, a close relative to the suspect recalls.

Mr Ssenkumba was arrested early this month by Kenyan police and handed over to the Ugandan authorities. He is among over 20 high value terror suspects detained by police and other security agencies in connection with the twin bomb attacks at Kyadondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Restaurant. Ugandans, Pakistanis and Somali nationals are among those in custody.
Ssenkumba is said to have told investigators that the bombs used in the attacks were assembled in Somalia.

Our investigations to uncover Ssenkumba, who according to Police was trained by al Shabaab in Somalia, took us to his home village in Mirembe, Butambala District.

Relatives’ tale
In this remote village, located 35miles south-west of Kampala, stands a relatively posh house that looks deserted. But according to neighbours, this house is home to about five people who are normally away during day time but sneak in at night.

This house, located along the dusty main road as you head to Kibibi from Mpigi town, also happens to be the ancestral home of Ssenkumba, where his parents and grandparents are said to be buried. Like most families in the area, this family owns a plantation of khat -commonly known as Mairungi.

Although security identifies him as Ali Isa Ssenkumba, his peers here know him as Issa Numba, the same names shared by his brother, the rally driver. Many residents have different recollections of the village man who has attracted national and regional attention following the terrorists attacks on Kampala. Some say they last saw him while still a child. But those familiar with the family, say Ssenkumba spends most of his time in neibouring Kenya only making periodic visits to his home village.

“He grew up as a polite boy and I believe many residents here know him as a good boy,” a man in his 50s, who preferred to be called Salim told this newspaper while pointing at one of Ssenkumba’s relatives. But the relative whom we later established to be his brother refused to talk about Senkumba’s life.

“I don’t understand what you are saying. I know nothing about that person you are talking about. So I can’t comment,” says Mr Umar Muyozi Numba, a young brother to the suspect.
But Ms Yudayah Namuli, another neighbour, who insists the suspect belongs to the Numba family said: “We know him as a friendly and religious person. We will be surprised if he is found guilty of subversive activities.”

Ms Namuli said that Ssenkumba and Numba are born to different fathers but come from the same family. Ssenkumba is a son to the late Hajj Haruna Ali Nkalubo while Numba’s father is of the late Asuman Numba . But Hajj Isa Numba (rally driver) disowned Ssenkumba and claimed that he was the only person named Isa Numba in the family.

“I am the only one in the family called Issa Numba and whoever claims to have similar names could be from a different family,” Hajj Numba said in a separate interview with Saturday Monitor at his garage in Kibuye, a city suburb.

Another neighbour, Swaib Kalule, a childhood friend to Ssenkumba, didn’t believe that his friend is a suspected terrorist, arguing that he is a victim of the growing Islamphobia, that has left many Muslims labeled terrorists.

“Many people get arrested and labelled terrorists because they shorten their trousers and grow big beards. This is a misconception that must get out of many people’s minds,” he said
But Col. Nsubuga was of a different view. “Ssenkumba has been a suspicious character and his behaviour can drive him to do that,” he noted.

He said six years back, Ssenkumba allegedly put pieces of broken bottles in food which killed two family members in the area. “After this bizarre incident, Police temporarily arrested him, his banana plantation and house were destroyed but we were surprised to see him months later loitering the village paths,” Mr Nsubuga said.

According to detectives handling the case, Ssenkumba has provided them with ‘useful’ information linking the al-Shabaab militants to al-Qaeda. This information, according to sources within the police force, has helped detectives to arrest high value suspects and gather more useful leads about the al Shabaab operations in the country.

Ssenkumba comes from a wealthy and influential family. His grandfather, Hajj Twaib Magatto is a former county chief in Buganda kingdom who was in charge of Butambala. Ssenkumba’s other brother ,Mr Asadul Zizinga is said to be a health officer in Kampala.
The family also owns a big chunk of land in the area which according to Nsubuga covers two villages. The family is also said to own prime land in Nateete, a city suburb.

School life:
According to Col. Nsubuga , Ssenkumba went to Simba Islamic Primary School before joining Kibibi SS and later Bilal Islamic Institute where he graduated as a Muslim cleric.
Information obtained from residents who were not free to speak on record due to fear of victimisation, said that Ssenkumba’s relatives and close friends are ardent supporters of NRM and some participated in last week grass root elections.