As Feisal Ali Mohamed (pictured) soldiered on with his lucrative poaching business, killing and decimating East Africa’s dwindling elephant population so did he beef up his sophisticated security detail.
Judging him by his frequent prayers in mosques in Kenya and Tanzania, one might think Mohamed was an innocent man, but behind the façade of a God-loving man, he was a deadly poacher who had painstakingly built his illegal multimillion-dollar empire.
But as his illegal activities grew, so did the efforts by the International Police Organisation (Interpol), which first issued his arrest warrant in October 2014.
Mohamed, estimated to be in his mid forties, has been in the poaching business for about a decade, moving smoothly between Kenya and Tanzania as elephants paid the heavy price. But within the security circles, he was a marked man who was being closely monitored, especially after the issuance of his arrest warrant.
When he left his home in Mombasa, Kenya, for Dar es Salaam, he was trying to avoid the long-arm of the law-enforcers.
But, unknown to him, there were special agents who were monitoring all his movements – and by the time he arrived in Dar hoping to find a safe haven, his heydays had reached the end.
According to Interpol sources, Mohamed, a Kenyan described as the elephant ivory smuggling kingpin, was finally arrested in a Kariakoo mosque in Dar es Salaam on December 3, 2014.
The organisation had posted Mohamed’s picture and other details on its website saying he was wanted for dealing in ivory.
Interpol sources told this newspaper in an exclusive interview in Arusha recently that Feisal, who is now facing criminal charges in Kenya, was arrested while praying in a mosque.
“The man was always guarded by armed bodyguards and it was very hard to arrest him,” said the sources, adding: “We managed to arrest him after he had entered into a mosque at Kariakoo for his evening prayers.”
The source said: “On that particular day towards Christmas we put on cloaks and tailed the man to the mosque. He left his bodyguards outside the mosque.”
“As he started to pray we whispered into his ear that he was under arrest and we sneaked him out of the mosque through a back door,” added the source.
He said by the time the bodyguards started to inquire why their boss was not coming out of the mosque the police and their suspect were several kilometres away from Dar es Salaam on their way to Kenya.
Feisal is now facing charges in Kenya’s port city of Mombasa for “dealing and possession of elephant tusks” weighing more than two tonnes and equivalent to at least 114 poached elephants, which were found during a raid in June 2014.
Two alleged accomplices, Abdul Halim Sadiq and Ghalib Sadiq Kara, were arrested then, but Mohammed managed to escape and had been on the run since.
According to an Interpol source, Mohammed was caught in ‘a sting operation’ conducted in conjunction with the Tanzanian police.
He is the second of nine alleged ‘environmental criminals’ listed by Interpol to have been arrested since the global police body’s appeal in October 2014.
In October 2015, a Chinese woman nicknamed the ‘Queen of Ivory’ was arrested in Tanzania and charged with smuggling at least 706 elephant tusks that authorities said were worth about $2.5 million (about Sh5billion).
In October 2015 Tanzanian officials announced the arrest of Boniface Matthew Mariango, nicknamed the ‘Devil,’ saying the man was responsible for thousands of elephant deaths across several African nations. He is yet to appear in court.
In early December 2014, Zambian national Ben Simasiku was arrested on charges of possessing ivory from Botswana.
In November, Interpol said the arrest of the suspects would “contribute to the dismantling of transnational organised crime groups who have turned environmental exploitation into a professional business with lucrative revenues.”
Last week, the United States declared a Tanzanian national, Ali Khatib Haji Hassan, also known as Shkuba, as a drugs kingpin and froze all his assets that are within US jurisdiction.
The Kingpin Act sanctions imposed on the Tanzanian man and his drug trafficking organization also prohibit American citizens from engaging in transactions with him.
Hassan was arrested by Tanzanian authorities in 2014 for smuggling about 210 kilogrammes of heroin, which was seized in Lindi.
“Hassan is a major international drug kingpin who smuggles multi-tonne shipments of heroin and cocaine to Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America via his East African-based drug trafficking organization,” the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a statement.
The US government said the Tanzanian has directed members of his network to send shipments of heroin to destinations including China, Europe, and the United States.
Ivory is sought out for jewelry and decorative objects and much of it is smuggled to China, where many increasingly wealthy shoppers are buying ivory trinkets as a sign of financial success.
A sharp rise in poaching in Tanzania, which is home to an estimated 30,000 elephants and just over a thousand rhinos, has sparked warnings from conservation groups that the government is losing the fight against the slaughter.
Poaching has led to a massive drop in elephant populations in Tanzania, with a 2014 elephant census report showing that the population of elephants in the country was 43,330, a decline from 109,051 in 2009, which was equivalent to a 60.3 decline.