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Carjackers who hold city in the grip of fear

They are young — in their late teens to early 30s —operate in twos or threes and always armed and ready to shoot at the slightest provocation.

Before they strike, they will have trailed you for some time to see where you live. And they might even have developed some sort of relationship with your guard or house-help.

These are the carjackers who are holding Nairobi in the grip of fear.

Increasingly, they are targeting high-end neighbourhoods unlike in the past when they mainly targeted commuter vehicles.

Among the high and mighty who have recently fallen victims to these emerging breed of criminals are an aunt of President Kenyatta Mrs Jean Muhoho, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri and Deputy President William Ruto’s spokesperson, the journalist David Mugonyi.

Three gangsters carjacked Mrs Muhoho on University Way on March 11 as she drove to town to drop a relative.

They forced her into the back seat of the Nissan Wingroad car she was driving while one of them took the wheel, driving her around the city for close to three hours before taking her to a coffee plantation behind the International School of Kenya in Kitisuru, where they abandoned her.

The gang robbed her of Sh20,000, ATM cards, her driving licence, a pair of shoes and an Uchumi card. Mr Ngunjiri too was carjacked and robbed before being abandoned in Runda.

Mr Mugonyi, unlike Mrs Muhoho and Mr Ngunjiri, not only lost cash and personal effects, but was hit and injured during the Tuesday night ordeal.

Mr Mugonyi told police he was carjacked as he sat in his Toyota Prado waiting for the gate to open at his home on Dennis Pritt Road.

Four people, three of whom were armed with pistols, accosted him and forced him out of the driver’s seat.

“The carjackers entered the car and drove it away with Mr Mugonyi inside. They headed towards Mombasa Road as they robbed him of his cash and other valuables before leaving him in Mlolongo and driving away with the car,” said Nairobi county police chief Benson Kibui.

The car was later found, abandoned in Pipeline in Embakasi.

The gang forced Mr Mugonyi to call his friends and ask them to send him money through M-pesa, he told police. He lost Sh122,000 and mobile phones during the ordeal.

In most cases, the carjackers target people they suspect could be carrying cash or ATM cards which they use to withdraw money from their accounts.

“Most of the time, they carjack people at a few minutes to midnight. They will force you to withdraw money from the account and then force you to do the same a few minutes past midnight when the maximum withdrawal amount has been renewed,” explained Mr Moses Ombati, the Nairobi county deputy police chief.

He went on: “They are very merciless. All they need is money and they can never spare you if you provoke them or refuse to cooperate.”

“On the first instance, they may approach you politely and ask you to let go of the wheels. If you resist, they show you a gun which will probably scare you and push you to abide by their command.”

Victims say the carjackers target motorists stuck in traffic or waiting for their gates to be opened. They may also be lying in wait in parking lots outside shopping malls or entertainment spots.

Another victim, Mr Meshack Langat, said his attackers trailed him to his parking spot in Donholm Estate before pouncing, on January 12.

“I tried resisting and they hit me hard on the head forcing me to comply. As I was seated behind, another one blindfolded me and they robbed me of all my belongings. They asked me for my ATM cards PIN numbers at some point and they withdrew money from them.

Undressed

“They then took me all the way to a place called Thome and dropped me at 5am after they undressed me. I was forced to take a bodaboda. My car has never been recovered since then,” he said.

Another victim, Ms Jane Theuri, said she and five of her friends were carjacked as they dropped one of them on Ngong Road near Prestige Plaza.

“We were riding in a friend’s car; a Fortuner. We were heading to Ngong. The three carjackers asked the driver to jump into the back seat. They drove to a field in Matumbato Road in Upper Hill and robbed us before undressing us,” she said.

“They then tied us in twos with ropes and left with the car, leaving us on the ground, naked,” she said.

Mr Ombati said several cases of carjacking have been reported in Langata, Kilimani, Parklands, Karen and Gigiri.

“The thugs have a network and they keep rotating from estate to estate so it is hard to ambush them. But I can assure you, we are working out a strategy that will enable us catch them,” he said, adding that the intelligence was now diverting attention to security guards and domestic workers.

The only thing to do when carjacked, he advised, was to cooperate.

“If a suspicious car is following you or you see suspicious people at your gate, don’t stop. Just pass and head to the police station,” he said.