Hafsa Lukman, the Somalian woman who was kidnapped.

Somali woman saved from kidnappers in Kenya’s capital

Kidnapped Somalian woman rescued in Nairobi following five days of torture.

Interview Subject
Hafsa Mohammed Lukman is a 23-year-old business woman who was kidnapped in Kenya’s capital and held for ransom for five days.

She was beaten, robbed of her life’s savings, and stored in a water tank where she had access to little food and water. She was rescued by police and investigators after her family refused to pay the ransom.

A successful entrepreneur, she runs a clothing shop in the Kamukunji Trading Centre.
Background
According to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), nearly one in 3,000 people in Kenya are kidnapped. The cases are more pronounced in the two major cities of Kenya, Nairobi (Kenya’s Capital) and the sea port city of Mombasa. Half of those kidnapped are never found. Many who are retrieved, are found dead or abandoned in neighboring counties or in forests.

In the last five years, the major kidnappers have been members of the ISIS-linked terror group Al-Shabaab who have a base in Somalia. Most of the people kidnapped by Al-Shabaab have been forced to join their militia group which terrorizes northern Kenya. The militant group often targets professionals and foreigners. In 2018 and 2019, for example, foreign aid workers were abducted by the terror group. Silvia Romano, 25, an Italian aid worker, was kidnapped in 2018. In 2019, two Cuban doctors working in Kenya were kidnapped. All three were found alive.

Locally, the DCI says groups and individuals without a solid network carry out kidnappings throughout the country, often targeting children to be sold in illicit trade to women who are unable to have children. Others are kidnapped for ransom.

Ransom varies depending on the kidnappers. Some charge as little as 10,000 Shillings ($91 USD) to over 10 million Shillings ($91,000 USD). The kidnappers ask family members to place the money somewhere and when they collect it, they release the victim. Three out of 10 operations don’t materialize, as police officers set a trap and arrest the kidnappers.

Kidnappers who ask for ransom usually know the victim and/ or family members. Those who disappear completely, never to be heard from again, are suspected to be abducted by strangers.

Source: National Police Service and Director of Criminal Investigation-DCI

NAIROBI, Kenya I met Hafsa Abdulwahab, a fellow Muslim woman, in my neighborhood in Nairobi.

Hafsa approached me one day with a proposal, to invest in a watermelon store.

She suggested we situate the store in Kayole, one of Nairobi’s most populated neighborhoods. Hafsa would take charge of operations, and I would manage the cash.

Little did I know, in June 2021, I would be held hostage for five days, beaten, and robbed by my business partner. 

When Hafsa asked me to invest in a watermelon business, I had full trust in her. Her language was kind, and she was a fellow Muslim and a neighbor. She earned my trust and then kidnapped and tortured me.

Scammed and set up by a con artist in Kenya

I decided to invest in the watermelon business. I gave Hafsa seed money to get started – 700,000 shillings in total ($6,400 USD).

As time went on, there were no results. When I would inquire with Hafsa about the state of the business, she would say, “It is picking up slowly.”

She blamed the delay on changes to the business model. Instead of buying melons from farmers, she said she had to cultivate her own.

After almost a year, I saw no return and I asked Hafsa for my money back. She began talking in endless circles.

She insisted the watermelons needed time to mature. All my trust in her was gone. I mounted the pressure and one day, she called me to say she had a plan on how to settle our debt.

She insisted we meet in person to agree on the terms. I consented.  

On Sunday, June 13, 2021, Hafsa called me and said she had the money; that we should meet at her place to exchange the cash.

She indicated the money was in Kayole [the same neighborhood where the watermelon store was located], and suggested she pick me up at my shop in Kamukunji and take me there.

I asked why she couldn’t just bring the money to me and Hafsa said, “I fear walking around with such a huge amount in this risky town.” I believed her.

We left my shop at 4:44 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15, and headed to Kayole.

After 35 minutes in Nairobi traffic, we arrived at a house in Kayole. She said we had to wait; someone would arrive soon with the cash. We engaged in our usual conversations about life and the pandemic.

Beaten, tied, and abducted for ransom

Hafsa seemed unable to concentrate and was busy on the phone, texting. At about 6:00 p.m. that evening, I invited her to join me for Maghrib, our evening prayers. It was not unusual. We had prayed together in our neighborhood before.

This time, she was hesitant. She gave me a prayer mat and showed me a corner where I could lay it down. Barely 10 minutes into the prayer, two gentlemen knocked at the door, and she ushered them in.

I was continuing my prayers when suddenly, the two men apprehended me and stuffed papers and sawdust in my mouth.

I tried to free myself, but it proved impossible. The men trampled me to the ground and tied a piece of cloth over my eyes. They tied my hands and legs too. I lost consciousness and when I awoke, I was in another house.

I later found out the house where I was held was in the Matopeni slums of Kayole. That night, I ate nothing. They took my identification, phone, and ATM card. I was unable to communicate with anyone. My hijab and clothing were stained with blood. 

The following day, they untied me and made me text my family and tell them I was kidnapped and to pay 5,000,000 shillings ($46,000 USD).

I was reluctant, but it was the only thing that would set me free, so I sent the text to my brother Zachary Lukman and my brother-in-law Omar Ibrahim.

They immediately reported the matter to the Director of Criminal Investigation (DCI). My family never gave in to my captors’ demands.

Captors’ demands lead to a missing person’s report

After denying the kidnappers’ demands, my family launched a missing person alert. The kidnappers came the following day and covered my eyes again with a piece of cloth. They started beating me and made me record a message for my family.

I was speaking in Somali when they interrupted and said, “Speak in Kiswahi.” They made me say, “Nimeshikwa na wanataka pesa, tafadhali mtume pesa,” meaning, “I have been kidnapped and they are demanding money. Please send it.”

I did not realize they were recording a video until I saw it following my rescue. After being tortured, I was given water, juice, and rice. I was hungry and ate everything I could put into my mouth.

They tied my hands again and stuffed me in a 200-liter water tank in the dingiest room. It was painful. I could not turn, and I could not scream. I had no idea where I was. I had to go to the bathroom on myself inside the tank. 

On Thursday, they came again with water and rice, and they called my brothers. I heard them say, “We are not killers. The instructions we gave you are clear. Just follow the instructions. If anything happens to her, it is you who will have done it!” 

They threatened my brother and demanded to know why he shared the 35-second clip they recorded the previous day.

My brothers were working with the police to trace the signal of the phone the kidnappers were using. They also blocked my ATM card to prevent further transactions, but little did they know, the criminals had already removed 650,000 shillings ($6,000 USD) from my account at various ATMs and shops.

Police initiate a rescue plan

The investigators instructed my family to text the abductors, so they could lure them out and capture them. When the ATM was blocked, they threatened to kill me. Time was of the essence.

While tracing the signal, police identified three locations within Nairobi City where the gang was operating from, and two of those locations were in Kayole.

My pictures were circulated throughout social media as well as police sites. Before my abduction, cases of kidnapping and murder were rampant in Kenya, from Nairobi to Mombasa, and in all the major towns.

Some escaped safely, others were found dead. My biggest fear was that I would die at the hands of my kidnappers. I wondered if I would ever escape this hell.

The house where I was being held was next to a playground. On Friday, just before my captors checked in to bring me rice, I screamed! They had tied me but forgot to cover my face and mouth as they did in the first days.

“Maji! Maji ! Nakufa,” I screamed, meaning “Water! Water! I am dying!.” I drew the attention of some kids nearby. Soon, I could hear murmuring outside the room.

Hunger or a bullet

I assumed it was people gathering around who heard my screams. I had to be tactical because I had no idea who was outside. My kidnappers could be out there, so I continued groaning so that my voice could be heard.

Around 7:00 p.m., the door opened, and a man walked in. His was a new face. He didn’t spend the usual amount of time. He simply held out a bottle of juice which I drank quickly.

The man spoke angrily, “This is like a movie to me! For the last 23 years that I have been on earth, I have never seen such a thing! Your uncooperative family want me to kill you. We are not killers. They should behave and follow instructions.” He left abruptly. 

The fifth day of my abduction was the worst. My kidnappers never appeared that day. I ate nothing and despite the small amount of food and drink they gave me, I needed it to stay alive. I’d rather die of a bullet than hunger and stress.

I had grown weak. My hands and legs were tied. From early morning to evening, no one came. I spent the entire day praying for Allah to save me.

Rescued by police, kidnappers arrested

On the day of my rescue, Sunday, June 20, 2021, at 7:00 a.m., I heard someone break down the door. I said my last prayer, ready for death. I suspected the gang had come to execute me.

To my surprise, I saw blue uniforms when the door opened. They were police officers.

The police took pictures of the scene and they untied me. I was too weak to move. My clothes were bloody and dirty, and I was so thirsty. I asked for water right away.

The police drove me to the Kayole Police station to record a statement, after which I was taken to Mama Lucy Hospital for treatment. My hands and wrists were bruised. I have scars all over my body and my face.  

Soon after, the police arrested 24-year-old Jackson Njogu and his girlfriend [my former business partner] Hafsa Abdulwahab, who is 21. The news of the arrest wasn’t only positive for my family, but also for the millions of Kenyans who have been affected in one way or another by the rampant kidnappings in our country.

We found that after siphoning my money, the perpetrators purchased a bar in the Kinangop area of Nyandarua County, thinking they would escape the long arm of the law.

Three days after my rescue, officers from the Crime Research and Intelligence Bureau, with the help of their counterparts from a special unit of the police, smoked out the two lovebirds in their hideout in room number eight, in the famous Crystal View Hotel. 

The value of family and moving forward

At the moment, the two kidnappers are in police custody and investigations are ongoing. Police seek to unmask the entire gang. A case is also in court, and it is prudent for me not to comment on the matter.

All I want is justice to be served. I want to look at these scars on my hands and smile because I have my life’s work back.

I have confidence in our police and in the investigators, as well as our courts. Justice will prevail.

At 23-years-old, I know that if I have anything solid on this earth, it is my family. They stood beside me and will always be with me.

My family couldn’t sleep throughout my abduction. Led by my brother Zachary, they looked for me at every corner, made calls to police stations, and reached out to every media outlet, locally and internationally, just to have me back.

They are the ones who worked with the police and the investigators to find where I was. I don’t know if I would be here today were it not for my family. 

The incident caused immeasurable levels of stress and discomfort to them. I believe some of them will take a long time to heal from this.

I’m happy their efforts bore fruit and I was released. Many in Kenya are not so fortunate.

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Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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Kelly Ogome is a multimedia journalist covering stories from Uganda, Kenya & the great lakes region.