I was coming from a church service when around 12 women armed with knives surrounded me and demanded money,” a pastor started.
“Perhaps because one of them was familiar, they beat me up and let me go after I surrendered all the money I had,” added the cleric who asked not to be named for his security.
The incident, according to the pastor, took place in Frere Town, one of the most dangerous parts of Mombasa, at around 10 pm a week ago.
The gang had earlier the same day pounced on a woman in the same area, and undressed her before beating her up.
That same week, the all-female gang had attacked two other residents who are still nursing injuries in a local hospital.
Local security officials have been accused of laxity in dealing with the gang. For instance, when the pastor reported the attack to a top security official in Mombasa County, he claimed he was warned not to talk to the media as this would only complicate matters. “Keep the media out of this matter please, it won’t help,” the pastor claimed to have been told.
The narrations from four victims fit the description of the latest gang in Mombasa – Wakware Babies – which operates in Bombolulu within the notorious Kisauni constituency.
The other gangs which operate in the county include Wakali Kwanza and Wakali Wao (Kisauni), Mawayo and Temeke (Mvita) and Chafu and Wajukuu wa Bibi from Likoni.
The knife-wielding gangs mainly target residents coming from Swahili weddings, which usually end late into the night.
Also not spared are mourners attending fundraising meetings to offset funeral expenses and residents who leave work late in the night.
On April 19, for instance, members of two rival gangs from Old Town and Majengo turned against each other during a night street wedding, leaving several gang members nursing serious injuries.
Among those injured was a member of the Old Town gang identified as Adnan Salim and several wedding guests.
Senior security bosses at the Coast have differed over efforts to contain these gangs.
This is after the Mombasa police commander Johnstone Ipara on April 22 banned night weddings following the rise in insecurity.
He further directed that the weddings be conducted in social halls and should not go beyond 11 pm.
“Anyone who will go beyond that time will also be arrested for violating the order,” warned Mr Ipara.
However, the directive did not go down well with Coast regional police boss Noah Mwivanda who a week later dismissed the ban as “a rumour”.
Speaking during a press briefing at the regional police headquarters in Mombasa, Mr Mwivanda said “he was not aware of any ban and, if there is any, then that is a rumour. Do not follow that one”.
He added that no one apart from him and regional coordinator Bernard Leparmarai had the authority to ban night movement.
“Night weddings can continue; we have no authority over such, ours is to provide security in the sense that the couple or their families should make sure that they notify the police before going about their ceremonies,” said Mr Mwivanda.
NIGHT MOVEMENT BAN
He added: “If there is any night movement ban, it is me and the regional coordinator to issue that ban or to instruct the DCC to issue the announcement.”
Mr Mwivanda also dismissed Mr Ipara’s directive that all weddings should be conducted in social halls. “We have no control over the venues and timings for the weddings. What we are saying is that do not just wake up and go to a wedding without informing the police for purposes of ensuring that we protect you,” he said.
Security sources who spoke to the Nation said: “There are issues going on but we cannot make conclusions at this time.”
Last year, Mombasa County Commissioner Evans Achoki banned night weddings without police protection following the rise in insecurity in the area.
And in 2016, former County Commissioner Maalim Mohamed ordered all wedding ceremonies to end by 10 pm.
Mr Mohamed, who is currently the Makueni Commissioner, directed that if more time was required, the police should be notified and a fee paid to provide armed police officers.
When Mr Ipara issued the ban last week, there was a major outcry from the public and lobbies.
Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri), a non-governmental organisation, threatened to move to court to challenge the matter.
Muhuri chairman Khelef Khalifa asked the police to deal with the gangs instead of banning the weddings. “Security provision is the work of the police and not citizens. We will not allow a roadside declaration. Police should maintain law and order,” said Mr Khalifa.
Community leaders among them Muslim clerics have blamed parents for the emergence of the criminal gangs.
Speaking during last Friday’s prayer sermons at Masjid Musa in Majengo, Mombasa Sheikh Abu Qatadah said failure by parents to instill discipline in their children has resulted in the rise in crime.
Sheikh Qatadah called upon parents to admit that there is a problem if insecurity is to be successfully tackled in Mombasa.
“As parents, we need to come out and confront the problem. It is now getting out of hand,” he said.
Between February and March at least 14 suspected gang members were killed by police.
In March alone, at least eight suspected members of the gangs were killed in Kisauni, Likoni and Nyali constituencies. Five of the suspected gang members were killed by police while three others were lynched by mobs. Wakali Kwanza and Wakali Wao, which are the two main gangs in Kisauni constituency, started off as soccer teams.
In 2016, the two gangs were known to target women, harassing them sexually whenever they failed to part with money. Mawayo and Temeke gangs mainly operate in Majengo and Old Town respectively.