The provincial commissioner of Kenya's Northeast Province, which borders Somalia, has confirmed reports that a criminal syndicate of Somalis and Kenyan sympathizers is issuing identification documents to hundreds of Somali immigrants seeking to enter Kenya. But he tells VOA that he does not know if Somali Islamist fighters are among those being smuggled into the country. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Provincial Commissioner Karitu Wamae says his region is on high alert, following the arrests and detentions of more than a dozen Somalis in the northeastern towns of Mandera and Garissa in recent days.
Wamae says although all of the detainees are Somali, they were carrying Kenyan identification documents when they were intercepted at the border.
"What has been happening is that there are some people, who are having some kind of a syndicate, whereby they supply them with genuine Kenyan ID cards which do not belong to them," he said. "Sometimes, you find somebody aged 50 is carrying an ID of someone who is 24 years."
Wamae says the Kenyan border police are trying to track down the syndicate members and shut down their operation.
But the commissioner says he has found no evidence to suggest that any of the detained Somalis are fighters loyal to the ousted Islamic Courts Union, as it was alleged Friday in a Kenyan newspaper.
"The aliens who are rounded up, we cannot say they are Islamic Court Union fighters," he added.
The report in the Daily Nation newspaper says intelligence officials in Kenya have been investigating a syndicate, which they believe has been responsible for smuggling Somali Islamist fighters into Kenya for several weeks.
According to the Nation, the syndicate issued false sailor IDs to the Somalis and then used licensed Kenyan fishing boats to transport them to the coastal towns of Malindi and Mombasa. The Islamist fighters, were then reportedly given Kenyan identification documents to help them avoid arrest.
But the newspaper says tighter security along the coast forced the smugglers to change tactics in recent days. The article says Islamist fighters are now being taken through Kenya's porous border with Somalia in the Northeastern Province.
Kenya officially closed its border with Somalia last December, when an Ethiopian-led military offensive led to the downfall of Somalia's powerful Islamist movement.
The United States, Ethiopia, and other countries had accused several top radical leaders of the movement of turning the lawless country into a haven for extremists and terrorists.