Suspected ivory smuggling kingpins arrested in Kenya as Interpol probe illegal trade’s links with terrorism


By Tom Parry, Mirror

Date Published
Kenyan police have arrested the three suspected kingpins of a multi-million pound ivory smuggling ring which is thought to be bankrolling terrorists.

Tycoon Abdurahman Mohammed Sheikh was seized at his mansion in the coastal city of Mombasa last week with his two sons following a global police operation led by Interpol.

The dramatic swoop on the wealthy tycoon follows the recent seizure of nearly seven tonnes of ivory in Singapore and Thailand, destined for the lucrative Far East market.

Last year the Daily Mirror revealed how cartels linked to British terrorist Samantha Lewthwaite, the White Widow, fund attacks with illegal ivory.

We exposed the sickening trade which is claimed to be worth £4.5 billion to the feared Islamist group al-Shabaab.

Experts say it buys arms and bomb-making equipment used in the Nairobi mall atrocity with money from illegal ivory.

The 3.7-tonne Singapore consignment was the second-biggest from Kenya since 2002, with a street value of £40million.

The Thailand shipment consisted of 511 raw tusks disguised in containers of tea leaves.

One week before the Thailand seizure, police there made the country’s largest ever ivory bust, intercepting four tonnes of ivory from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ivory is so valuable that it is known as white gold by the trafficking networks who pay poachers to hack off elephants’ tusks.

Although the poachers from poverty-stricken parts of East Africa are paid handsomely for the tusks, the profit margins are huge.

Demand for ivory in countries like China and Thailand is so high that gangs are willing to take massive risks to get to the endangered animals in Kenya’s vast national parks.

Poachers have been responsible for the murders of scores of park rangers in recent years as al-Shabaab becomes increasingly dependent on ivory profits.

Mombasa County police commander Robert Kitur described the arrests as “a major breakthrough in war against poaching in the country”.

“We are still pursuing more suspects behind these syndicates who include the exporters who remain at large,” he added.

James Isiche, Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said: “The only way that Kenya will end this stigma of being the trafficking route of choice is by smashing the cartels and bringing the main culprits to book, whether they are dealers or facilitators in government.”

It is believed the ivory was loaded into containers at Sheikh’s palatial home after being driven to Mombasa from other parts of Kenya by cartel couriers.

Passports and ID documents in several fake names were found for Sheikh and his two sons.

Kenyan officials are now probing how the huge ivory shipment managed to pass through Mombasa undetected.

The contraband goods were not spotted as the busy port only has one scanner.