Kenyans falling victim to ‘Devil’s Breath’ criminals

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Victim of drugging had home cleared out while under influence following meeting at petrol station

By Magdalene Mukami

NAIROBI, Kenya – When Ann Njeri left home one Saturday morning she had no idea she would end up drugged and robbed – or, as she puts it, come face-to-face with the Devil.

Ann is the latest in a growing number of Kenyans falling prey to thieves who have adopted a South American method of robbery, enlisting the help of a drug that has come to be known as Devil’s Breath.

She was targeted as she filled her car at a petrol station in capital Nairobi on the last Saturday of the month, when most Kenyans are paid.

“This was all I was planning before coming face to face with the Devil,” the 29-year-old told Anadolu Agency.

“I was at a petrol station filling my tank. I left my car for a minute to grab something to eat and that is when a young lady approached me with a map and asked for directions,” she said.

“She seemed lost, the place she was going was close to the petrol station so I offered to drop her off. She was carrying flowers, which I thought looked lovely and gave off a pleasant fragrance, their scent was sweet.”

Ann, who owns two shops, had been driving for a few minutes when she started feeling dizzy. That is her last memory of the day.

“I woke up on a bench at Uhuru Park,” she said, referring to a park in central Nairobi. “I knew I had been robbed but I didn’t know how.”

However, the full extent of the crime became apparent when she returned home. Her house had been ransacked and emptied of her valuables but when she spoke to neighbors she realized she had seemed a willing accomplice in the crime.

“They were surprised that I was robbed as when they saw me I was fully sober,” she said. “There was no indication that I had been drugged or anything.”

The neighbors told Ann she had told them she was moving home. “It was like I was programmed to say that, it was like I was a zombie,” she told Anadolu Agency.

 

– Scopolamine

 

Devil’s Breath is a local name for scopolamine – a drug that was used medically as an anaesthetic and latterly as a truth serum by secret police interrogators. Its most recent incarnation is as a “suggestion drug” used by criminals who want to control their seemingly conscious victims.

The first documented instance of the drug’s use in Kenya was in 2008. However, it initially acquired popularity among criminals in Columbia, where the Borrachero tree from which it is harvested grows.

Dr. Johannes Oduor, Kenya’s chief pathologist, who has a wide experience of toxicology, said scopolamine is also used to relieve nausea and dizziness.

“Abuse of this drug may lead to death from overdosing or it may even cause severe heart disease,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Odorless, colorless and tasteless, scopolamine can drain the recipient’s will power, turning them into a puppet to be easily manipulated.

Such is the prevalence of the drug – which is usually used in robberies or sex attacks – that its effects have become well-known among bar and nightclub staff in Nairobi.

“It is the preferred date rape drug nowadays, unlike the others which render your victims unconscious,” barman Jimmy Mwangi said. “The Devil’s Breath keeps them conscious and turns them into a zombie who obeys everything that they are told.”

“In my line of work I hear about these kinds of stories every day. Prostitutes use them to steal from the rich men who visit clubs while some men use it as a date rape drug.”

He added: “The drug makes you docile. This is why its use is growing fast in Kenya – the victim can help you empty their account, they will open their house and let you in.”

“The most common form of administration is by blowing the powder on the victims face – thus why it is called the Devil’s Breath.”

The problem in Kenya is exacerbated by the relative ease of acquiring the drug, which, although it is classified as a prescription-only drug, can be bought from unscrupulous pharmacists and medical staff.

Ann is just one of many who have found themselves on the wrong side of the drug and is still haunted by the experience.

She suffers heart palpitations and panic attacks more than two months after the attack.

Her doctor has told her the flowers the woman carried were probably laced with a nonlethal dose of scopolamine.

Kenya’s National Police Service Commission was unable to provide exact details on the number of cases but numbers are estimated to have run into the hundreds since 2008.

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