Maputo — The Mozambican police on Friday arrested prominent businessman Mohammed Bakhir Ayoob, on suspicion of involvement in the wave of kidnappings and ransom demands that has shaken Maputo in recent months.
The independent television station STV was tipped off about the impending arrest, and sent a camera crew to film it. The Friday lunchtime STV news showed police driving Ayoob away from his home in central Maputo in his own Mercedes. The STV crew gave chase but a jeep full of armed police moved in front of them, and prevented them from seeing where Ayoob had been taken.
The police searched Ayoob's house. On the pavement, Ayoob's lawyer, Maximo Dias, said the police had a search warrant, but had not found anything to incriminate his client.
Ayob was apparently named as their employer by the three alleged members of the kidnap gang whom the police arrested on 13 September. These men, Arlindo Timana, Manuel Valoi and Inacio Paulino, supposedly implicated Ayoob in five successful kidnappings plus one that failed.
This gang confessed that, on 9 February this year, they abducted the wife of one of the directors of the company Delta Trading, and demanded a ten million dollar ransom. They admitted to the kidnapping of Salim Mussa, owner of Favorita Warehouses, and demanded a million dollars for his release.
In November 2011, they kidnapped one of the owners of the foreign exchange bureau Mundial Cambios, and demanded a ransom of 900,000 dollars. They also abducted the owner of the company Machava Warehouses, and wanted his family to pay them 500,000 dollars.
The group also attempted to kidnap the owners of a second foreign exchange bureau, Africambios. But they made a mistake and kidnapped one of the bureau's workers instead. He was released a few hours later when the gang realized they had got the wrong man.
But anonymous police sources cited by STV, and by the electronic newsheet "Canal de Mocambique", say that Ayoob is also under investigation for at least two murders earlier this year. One of the victims, Momade Khaled Ayoob (no relation), was gunned down outside a Maputo mosque in April. The second, Ahmed Jassat, owner of the Expresso Cambios foreign exchange bureau, was shot in June in a busy Maputo street, and died in a South African clinic a few days later.
"Canal de Mocambique"'s police sources claim that Ayoob owed large sums of money to these two businessmen.
Bakhir Ayoob owns several shops in central Maputo, including "Bakhir Cell Shop", "Bakhir Game Shop" and "Bakhir Auto Style".
Ayoob apparently enjoyed a lavish life style. The police sources say they have information from their South African counterparts that Ayoob recently lost 24 million rands (2.9 million US dollars) in South African casinos.
Ayoob is well connected. His wife, Zeinab, is the daughter of Momade Bachir Sulemane, generally regarded as one of the richest men in the country - and who, in mid-2010, was named as a drugs "kingpin" by United States Barack Obama.
Although Bachir has loudly protested his innocence, he, and the companies he owns, remain on the US list of "Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers". Maximo Dias is the lawyer for both Bashir and his son-in-law.