Two police stations, a busy shopping mall and a popular church were the target of their painstakingly planned, bloody terror attack; until the police pounced on them in a dramatic 10am ambush at the Likoni Channel crossing in Mombasa.
The Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) had been trailing a number of suspects for at least one month, since security signals indicated that deadly weapons and explosives had been dispatched from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to come and wreak havoc in Kenya's coastal city.
Through the Tanzania border at the Lunga Lunga crossing point, the suspects managed to smuggle in two AK 47 assault rifles and explosives to execute their murderous mission.
Unknown to them, the police were on their trail, and yesterday morning would mark the sudden end of their deadly mission that could have possibly killed scores of people and maimed others.
To avoid causing commotion in the ferry, the police timed their ambush well, and sprang on them just before their Toyota Probox, registration KCE 695 U, could board the sea vessel which is used by thousands of pedestrians and motorists every day to travel between the Mombasa island and the mainland.
While confirming the operation, Coast Regional Coordinator, John Elungata, told Nation that one of those arrested yesterday had been living in the DRC while communicating with local operatives to plan the attack.
"Police are now on the lookout for their associates who are believed to be in Mombasa and will in the coming days arrest other suspects of the foiled attack. Investigations are also ongoing to get details of the planned attack," he told Nation.
The police declined to name the two suspects, to avoid scuttling an ongoing investigation.
Nation understands that the suspects and their accomplices had already mapped out the Central and Makupa police stations in Mombasa's central business district, a popular shopping mall in Nyali area and a church, where they had planned to attack.
A senior security official, who spoke to Nation in confidence, said information on the impending terror attack was gathered from a recently apprehended suspect within Old Town, in Mombasa County.
According to sources, the ATPU detectives had been tracking the suspects from Lunga Lunga, Kwale County, where it was suspected that they had a safe house from which they kept the weapons that were brought into the country through the Lunga Lunga border with Tanzania.
It is understood that the two firearms and explosive making devices had been in the house for at least one month, based on intelligence signals.
Police sources say that movement of the weapons started from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with one of the terror suspects. In yesterday's days operation, police shot in the air, handcuffed, and blindfolded the two men before they were bundled into a waiting van.
Inside the boot of the vehicle, the officers recovered two machetes, two AK47 rifles, 150 rounds of ammunition, and other equipment that were to be used to make explosives. They also found booklet manuals for assembling explosives.
Also recovered in yesterday's operation were sketch maps of Makupa and Central Police stations, showing that the attackers had done prior surveillance of the two posts. The documents also had written notes naming a popular mall and a Mombasa church that attracts hundreds of faithful. It also had security analysis of these establishments.
"The attackers were to weigh the two and identify the weakest target to attack after teaming up with local operatives. Their mission for the attack has not been established even as they were coming to Mombasa to link up with the others," police sources told Nation.
The attack was to involve a local operative, who was working with the two suspects, and had been implicated in previous crimes within South Coast.
In one of the incidents, the suspects shot a police officer on January 2, 2014, after raiding a club called Tandoori where they injured at least 10 people. In another incident, they threw a grenade on a police vehicle number plate KBA 231Z. They also attacked Kombani police station five years ago.
Last Wednesday, a Mombasa businessman, Abdulhakim Salim Saggar, was arrested by ATPU officers, an incident police sources say is directly linked to the planned terror attack.
Mr Elungata confirmed that police are holding Mr Saggar.
"We are still investigating him," said the RC.
Yesterday, Mr Saggar's family lawyer, Mbugua Mureithi, said he was charged with possessing terror-related materials on his mobile phone in 2018, and was later released.
"He has been cooperating with the officers. Even when he was asked to appear at the ATPU offices in Mombasa he did," he said.
Mr Mureithi said that he was 'appearing to the police whenever called upon."
Mr Saggar was first arrested in 2018 following the arrest of his employee.
His lawyer noted that Mr Saggar had been reporting to the ATPU offices once every month since 2018.
"In 2018, two men were arrested in the Liboi area, one of whom confirmed to be working for Mr Saggar as a gas supplier. Later, the officers arrested him (Mr Saggar) and we have been following up on the case since then," said Mr Mureithi.
Mr Saggar's brother, Mohammed Saggar, told the Nation that his brother runs a cyber-business in Old Town, Mombasa.
On Monday, police also disrupted a peaceful demonstration at the Makadara grounds where activists demanded to know the whereabouts of Mr Saggar.
Led by Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki, the demonstrators urged police to follow the rule of the law in apprehending criminals, instead of abducting them.
"It is a sad state to note that we are still using such methods to deal with criminality. This matter is not the first, in this county and the coastal region. We are demanding accountability from the Coast Regional Commander," Senator Faki said.
He called on the police officer to use the judicial systems and take Mr Saggar to court instead of detaining him, days after he was "arrested."
Additional reporting by Farhiya Hussein and Wachira Mwangi