Kenya’s death squads are back in action in the coastal holiday-destination city of Mombasa.
At 8:15 on Friday night the owner of the Modern Coach bus company was shot dead by ‘unknown assailants’ close to the Changamwe police station.
Shahid Bhutt, in his late fifties, had just picked up his son at Moi international airport and were on their way home when two private vehicles blocked the way. One car rear-ended Bhutt’s car while the other pulled in front.
Six to seven hooded gunmen reportedly got out their vehicles and approached his car on foot, spraying the occupants with bullets at close range. Bhutt was killed instantly. His son is said to have been shot in the arm, but is reportedly in stable condition.
A member of Mombasa Muslim community, who wishes to remain anonymous, told me that Bhutt had a “long running row with the imams” at the controversial Sakina mosque. One imam in particular, Sheikh Mohamed Idris, had the backing of Kenya authorities when he identified Bhutt as one of the largest donors to the mosque.
So-called “controversial” mosques in the run-down suburb of Majengo are reputed hot-beds of radicalism and recruitment feeders for the Somali militant group, al-Shabaab.
Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper reported that Idris’s opposition wanted to change the mosque’s name from Sakina Jamia to Masjid Mujahedeen, “mosque of Islamist fighters”. According to the same source Bhutt had hired “thugs” (apparently not part of al-Shabaab) to evict Idris from the mosque. Mohamed Idris, considered a moderate, was assassinated on June 10th, his assassins alleged to be al-Shabaab sympathizers.
Shabaab sympathizers also suspected to have gunned down, Athmed Bakshwein, a 61-year old police reservist in broad daylight as he parked his car in front of a hardware store in his hometown of Malindi. Bakshwein was said to have played an important role in other terrorist cases. Flyers in Mombasa displaying Bakshwein’s bullet-ridden corpse called Bakshwein a traitor to Islam.
A month later, prominent preacher and self-confessed al-Shabaab recruiter, Abubakar Makaburi said to me in an interview that “all moderate imams are potential little Bakshweins”.
“Sheikh Idris was at the forefront in the fight against the radicalization of the youth, and therefore his death is a big blow to the country’s efforts to stop religious extremism,” Mombasa County Police Commissioner, Robert Kitur, said in a statement.
A local reporter in Mombasa told me he’d arrived at the murder scene and counted 32 bullet holes in Bhutt’s vehicle. Weapons were likely AK47s used to shoot Bhutt at close range, the reporter added.
The modus operandi seem to bear the hallmarks of an assassination carried out by Kenya’s Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) sharpshooters.
Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Abubakar “Makaburi” were both killed in separate drive-by shootings on the Mombasa highway.
Robbers and thugs often use motorcycles. In almost every cleric killing (there have been almost two dozen within the last two years) the assassins are driving Toyota Probox vans.
Bhutt had been in court on terror-related charges but recently out on bail. Makaburi had won a lawsuit against Mombasa police and a settlement for approximately $7,000 just a week before “unidentified assailants” gunned him down in front of a prison courthouse on the outskirts of Mombasa.
However, police repeatedly deny involvement in any terror-related killings.
Mombasa County police commissioner, Robert Kitur, said police plan to launch an investigation into this latest killing, of Shahid Bhutt.
However, since assassinations of terror suspects are a form of justice aka “extrajudicial killings” an investigation is unlikely.
If the pattern persists Kenya can probably expect fresh attacks from al Shabaab in retaliation for this latest death.
Idris’s murder occurred just five days before the Mpekatoni massacre on Kenya’s north coast. Al Shabaab’s spokesman issued a statement claiming responsibility for the terror attack that left nearly up to 70 dead.
Mpekatoni village was the first of several small villages along Kenya’s north coast, where Shabaab killed non-Muslims.
For background into Kenya’s shadow wars, check out my In-depth, “Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War on Al-Shabaab Sympathizers” in my article for The Daily Beast.
Categories: Conflict In Context - Field Notes