Anti-drugs police have arrested a man believed to be the country’s most wanted drug kingpin. Ali Khatib Haji, popularly known as Shikuba, was arrested at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) last Sunday after two years of an intensive manhunt. The 44-year-old is considered one of the most powerful and influential drug barons in Tanzania. He is said to be the leader of a cartel operating principally in East Africa but with a reach as far as China, Brazil, Canada, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.
He was charged last week with trafficking in a record 210 kilograms of heroin worth around Sh10 billion. Police seized the drugs in Lindi in January 2012 and have linked him with the haul. Shikuba reportedly fled to South Africa the same day the drugs were seized and has since been in hiding.
It is not clear how he sneaked into the country and managed to get a new passport but on February 28, the manhunt paid off. Investigators had been on his trail in Dar es Salaam before cornering him at the airport as he prepared to leave the country.
He had been at the airport for an hour before officers from the anti-drugs task force descended on him and arrested him at around 1 p.m. as he was about to board a South African Airways flight. The head of the Anti-Drugs Unit (ADU), Mr Godfrey Nzowa, told The Citizen on Sunday: “It’s true that we got him. His arrest is a major milestone in our efforts to nab the big fish. He is among the suspected powerful and influential traffickers.”
Entries in his passport indicate that Shikuba had in the past two years frequented Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Japan and Brazil. The passport was issued in Zanzibar in June last year.
Shikuba has also been charged with the murder in 2007 of a young Tanzanian who died in China after reportedly swallowing drugs. According to police reports, Shikuba used the victim as a courier. He was acquitted, though, after the Director of Public Prosecution dropped the charges for lack of sufficient evidence.
Two years later, officers from ADU arrested Shikuba and asked the Ilala district court to place him under the watch of the police and courts because they had reliable information that he was a notorious drug dealer operating in and outside the country. The court ordered him to report to ADU once a month for a year. One of the security officers who took part in the arrest told The Citizen on Sunday that the suspect was “big-headed” upon his arrest. He reportedly refused to cooperate with the police and told them he would only speak in court.
After his arrest, Shikuba was driven to Central Police Station under tight security. He was taken to Lindi the following morning and charged with trafficking in drugs.
The Citizen on Sunday has reliably learnt that authorities in US and UK are also on his trail over similar accusations. Shikuba was among 12 people appearing on the list of suspected notorious drug dealers released by a Tanzanian prisoner in Hong Kong last year. He is also among 122 suspected drug dealers who were arrested between 2007 and 2008 and put under court and police supervision.
Anti-drugs officials in Tanzania have for the past year intensified the war against drug trafficking and registered significant success at transit points such as airports. Dozens have been arrested in the past year at JNIA and Kilimanjaro International Airport. Early last month, authorities impounded 201 kilograms of heroin worth $5.5 million (Sh9 billion) hidden in an Iranian ship. The development came just a few weeks after the Canadian military ship Toronto impounded 265 bags of heroin weighing more than 280kgs aboard a vessel while patrolling the Indian Ocean.