April, 8, 2014 — Kenya’s armed forces, bolstered by millions of dollars in U.S. aid and training, are now turning to death squad tactics against civilians who are sympathetic to an Islamist group based in Somalia.
The group is Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group that claimed responsibility for a deadly attack last year on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. Al-Shabaab is a jihadist group dedicated to Islamic fundamentalism and a strict form of Islamic law, and is reportedly funded by a complex web of supporters abroad, the export of charcoal to Gulf Arab states, the slaughter of elephants for the illegal ivory trade, and according to the United Nations, Eritrea. (Eritrea backs the group to bolster its hand against rival Ethiopia, a state that invaded Somalia in 2006.)
Al-Shabaab’s Westgate mall attack came after Kenya’s 2011 invasion of Somalia to fight al-Shabaab, ostensibly to combat the country’s chronic instability that was spilling into Kenya but also to shore up key economic interests, like the profitable port in Lamu, near the Somali border. Kenyan soldiers remain in Somalia, along with thousands of other troops affiliated with the African Union, which in turn fuels al-Shabaab’s anger at Kenya.
Yesterday, the Daily Beast’s Margot Kiser, reporting from Kenya, shined a light on the likely existence of Kenyan death squads aimed at people the security forces see as Islamic preachers sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Kiser wrote that there had been a spate of murders in recent months. The goal of the extrajudicial executions, according to Kiser, is to “exterminate and intimidate people believed to be associated with the Al Shabaab movement in neighboring Somalia.” Religious leaders told Kiser that Kenyan security forces “are targeting them unfairly for persecution if not indeed for summary execution,” though local authorities say they have intelligence linking imams to al-Shabaab.
Kiser profiled one death squad target in particular: Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, an Islamic preacher who admitted to recruiting young people to wage war on the Kenyan government. He preached at the Musa mosque, allegedly associated with Islamist extremism. On February 2nd, Kenyan authorities raided the mosque, leading to clashes that resulted in the deaths of eight people, including a policeman.
The preacher, Ahmed, was gunned down on Tuesday when a car pulled up and people inside sprayed him with bullets. It’s unclear who exactly was responsible, but suspicion rests on Kenyan security forces. A dirty war is being waged on Kenya’s streets, and is likely to intensify.
The U.S. has denied that it has anything to do with the death squads, claiming it has trained Kenyan security to operate in line with human rights. But those claims are dubious. America’s involvement with Kenya’s anti-terror forces is deep. Since 2003, the U.S. has given Kenya $50 million to fight terrorism; the country is one of the five recipients of U.S. anti-terror financing. And the U.S. and the U.K. provide training for Kenya’s fight against al-Shabaab.
The claims of no U.S. involvement are all the more dubious since the U.S. has partnered with Somali militias to hunt down al-Shabaab members, and because of the extensive record of U.S. support for death squads in other countries. Whether in the context of the Cold War or the war on terror, America’s support for death squads has allowed the U.S. to stand back while proxy forces achieve its goals by engaging in the most unsavory of activities: extrajudicial assassinations.
Here are five other countries where the U.S. has supported death squads.
America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq unleashed immense suffering, repression and a brutal civil war drawn on sectarian lines. One of the ways the U.S. fueled the sectarian civil war was by organizing and training death squads, largely to target Sunni Arab resistance to the new political order in the country. (Saddam Hussein systematically repressed Shiite Iraqis, and the tables were turned after America invaded and deposed Hussein.)
The first reports of U.S.-trained and -armed Shiite death squads emerged in 2005. An editorial by the Washington Post then noted that there was a “campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces.” The full extent of U.S. involvement became known when, in 2013, the Guardian and BBC Arabic conducted an investigation that shed more light on the squads.
Run by Colonel James Steele, a close adviser to General David Petraeus, the paramilitary squads tortured Iraqi prisoners and eventually evolved into death squads. Their goal was to torture Sunni prisoners for information about the resistance to U.S. forces.
As theGuardian reported, “the long-term impact of funding and arming this paramilitary force was to unleash a deadly sectarian militia that terrorised the Sunni community and helped germinate a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.”
2. El Salvador
Colonel James Steele’s involvement with Iraq’s death squads came over two decades after he was involved in a similar effort in El Salvador. In 1979, a military coup sparked a brutal civil war pitting the U.S.-backed government against left-wing rebels, inaugurating one of the most bloody chapters of the Cold War in Latin America.
Steele arrived in El Salvador in 1984, where he assumed control of U.S. special forces that trained Salvadoran military units that acted as death squads. The U.S. support for these death squads became known as the “Salvadoran Option.”
These Salvadoran units murdered an untold number of people, probably thousands of Salvadorans thought to be sympathetic or part of the rebel effort. They came to notoriety in 1980 whenfour American nuns were beaten, raped and killed by a death squad. In fact, as journalist Allan Nairn wrote in the Progressive in 1984,Salvadoran military death squads were set up earlier. “During the Kennedy Administration, agents of the US government in El Salvador set up two official security organizations that killed thousands of peasants and suspected leftists over the next fifteen years,” Nairn reported. “These organizations, guided by American operatives, developed into the paramilitary apparatus that came to be known as the Salvadoran Death Squads.”
Since the overthrow of a leftist president in 2009, the U.S. has bolstered support for the right-leaning Honduran government. Part of that effort has been funding Honduran police, even when they engage in death squad activities. The execution targeting suspected gang members are part of the U.S.-backed drug war in the region.
In March 2013, the Associated Press published an expose of these death squads and the U.S. support for them. The State Department has spent millions of dollars a year on the Honduran police. While the U.S. claims the money only goes to vetted and specially trained units, the AP reported that all the police squads are controlled by one man: Juan Carlos Bonilla, who has been linked to death squad activity in the past as well.
“In the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula,” the AP reported. “The country’s National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the ’18th Street’ gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.”
This long-standing U.S. ally was one of the first countries where the U.S. set up death squads. The Colombian government has long been engaged in a battle against the FARC, a leftist rebel group.
In 2007, historian Greg Grandin documented the history of America’s Colombian death squads in Salon. In 1962, the Kennedy administration sent General William Yarborough to the country to set up a unit to “execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents.”
“The point of death squads was not just to eliminate those thought to be working with the enemy, but to keep potential rebel sympathizers in a state of fear and anxiety,” wrote Grandin.
The U.S. war in Vietnam in the 1960s also employed death squads run by U.S. forces and South Vietnamese allies. The operations, referred to as the “Phoenix Program,” were aimed at killing suspected communist sympathizers in South Vietnam.
Members of the CIA-organized unit included Navy SEALS, Green Berets and South Vietnamese mercenary units. The “Phoenix Program” lead to the killing of an estimated 20,000 people between 1967-1972.
Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
The shallow graves of at least twelve ethnic Somalis were said to have been discovered on the outskirts of Mandera, a town near Kenya-Somalia border.
One of the deceased has been identified by residents as “Isnina”, a mother of five, who went missing just four days ago.
Witnesses say two Kenya Defense Forces soldiers in separate Toyota Probox vehicles arrested Isnina after abducting her from her small hotel opposite Furqan mosque in Mandera.
The individuals are thought to have been killed by Kenya’s security forces following a string of deadly attacks against non-Muslims by Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.
According to a situation report given to me, the Manda Area Councilor had been organizing a demonstration to protest disappearance of a woman -one among many disappearances that residents believe are being carried out by security forces.
Last year al-Shabaab massacred dozens in separate bus and quarry attacks in Mandera county.
The bodies of 11 ethnic Somalis were discovered in Wajir last May, a town not far from where the Somali militants group killed at least 150 people at a university in Garissa county.
Further documentation of against ethnic Somalis by security forces was published by Kenya National Human Rights Commision in a report called “The Error of Fighting Terror with Terror”.
The spokesman for the Kenya Defense Forces deny involvement with these disappearances.
The Kenya government has in the past said the deaths of ethnic Somalis were due to clan conflict.
A Security news source claims the bodies discovered in the mass graves belong to police informants and defectors whose murders al-Shabaab leaders had ordered.
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.
March 31, 2014 – On a flight from Dubai to Casablanca the 1956 Hitchcock film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, had been playing on the Emirate’s In-flight entertainment. In the film Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day play a young American couple who get caught up in political intrigue while vacationing in Morocco with their son.
There’s a scene in which the couple is watching a festival in a outdoor market in Marrakech. Out of the crowd an Arab man in a white robe emerges and stumbles across the courtyard collapsing at Jimmy Stewart’s feet. A dagger sticks out of the Arab’s back; he is dead.
I filmed that scene with my IPhone because I’d been interviewing a jihadist for a Daily Beast story.
Sharrif Athmed alias “Makaburi ” had over the course of a month repeatedly told me he’d be assassinated. It was just a matter of time. The scene in the Hitchcock film seemed to reflect the jihadists predicament.
I was anxious to resume my interview with him. I’d met him in Mombasa a month earlier – in late February – and spent three hours interviewing him. I felt safer in his little apartment in Majengo; I was afraid the Kenya police or youths – Al Shabaab sympathizers – armed with rocks were waiting for me outside.
In what would turn out to be the remaining days and hours of his life our interview via Whatsapp exchange lended an intimacy, openness and trust.
I wanted to press him about allegations by the UN Security Council had accused him of being directly related to Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-allied “terrorist” group.
He never mentioned the clip from the Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much that I sent him.
That was on March 31st.
“I’ve been labeled a terrorist, so I cannot travel out of the country,” said the prominent imam, adding that he hardly left his apartment. He said he knew he was a marked man.
He sat like a rooted tree trunk at a desk underneath the black flag with the white Arab script of shuhada and the primitively drawn in white.
He seemed heavier than in photos of him two years previously. His skin seems pasty and lackluster as result of endless days spent indoors.
In 2012 the UN Security Council identified Abubakar Shariff Athmed as a recruiter of young men to fight against the Kenyan armed forces in Somalia. His pulpit became an infamous mosque.
Around him were creature comforts – tubs of Blue Band butter, mini Qurans, large bag of mini-chocolates at his feet. There was an HP printer there, too. His desktop screen-saver featured images of various soldiers or recruits “suspected” terrorists he says the police mutilated, their private parts cut off and stuffed in their mouths.
Others, he said, we’re thrown into a latrine in Voi.
In February, in anticipation of a ‘jihad convention”, police stormed the mosque, fired rounds and tear gas and shot dead up to five young attendees. A policeman was also killed in the scuffle.
I’d been assigned to write about the police raid at the Masjid Musa (renamed Masjid Shuhada) for The Daily Beast . I unexpectedly had the opportunity to meet the vocal prominent cleric, Abubakar Shariff Athmed, alias Makaburi (Swahili for “grave digger”), a suspected ‘terrorist’.
The masjid (‘mosque’) Musa is a reputed incubator of Islamic “radicalization”. Because authorities have identified it as a Jihadist recruitment center it is often referred to as “Makaburi’s mosque”.
In 2012 the UN Security Council published a report linked several Mombasa imams to the Somali militant group Al-Shebab. Makaburi was on that list as a target to freeze his assets and not allow him to travel. For all intents and purposes he is under 24–hour surveillance.
Ever since the report was published most of those named have either “forcefully disappeared’ or gunned down. At the time of this writing up to 20 clerics have been killed or are still missing.
Almost every cleric murder resulted in rioting by youths in the Muslim community of Majengo.
When I meet him in February to discuss the Masjid Musa incident, Makaburi was the only remaining prominent cleric on the UNs list of “targeted terrorists”.
Makaburi lived by himself in a tiny apartment next to the garage and Musa Mosque.
My guide whom I will call John assures me that the cleric has his youth ‘under control’ and that we wouldn’t be harmed. But like me he is jittery and as we pull up next to the bombed out car in front of the garage, he confesses the meeting Makaburi might be dangerous. The image of gangs of angry “radicalized” youths armed with rocks pops to mind, but only a few people strolled by seemingly unfazed by the presence of a mzungu.
One thing Makaburi had made clear to most reporters, particularly after the Westgate Mall attack, was that he knew he was doomed to die sooner or later. I wondered why he was still alive.
– Who is a card-carrying Al-Shabaab member?
-There’s no such thing as a “card-carrying” al-Shabaab member.
But there was a time when many boys went from Kenya to Somalia to fight al-Shabaab. Some came back on assignment here in Kenya after being frustrated by al-Shabaab and when the Kenya government gave amnesty to Shabaab fighters. They started living openly as Al-Shabaab and they started getting killed.
Rogo’s awareness campaigns in Somalia were a threat to the west, he said.
So they took him out. The CIA killed Rogo. How do they do it? They label him a terrorist then a financier. Rogo used to say if you want to kill a dog, label it a stray.”
The UN is being used [by the US]. Some like Sheikh Shariff were once big terrorists in Somalia. When he [Shariff] agreed to the whims of the west and America then he became a patriot. Now he’s living comfortably.
Who or what defines a terrorist?
If I terrorize you aren’t you supposed to get justice for that? If Shariff is a terrorist – killed and murdered – why wasn’t he taken to court and justice done to the victims? But it doesn’t matter as long as you agree with the west.
Rogo was taken to court – it started legitimately but it didn’t work because they couldn’t prove anything against him. So they labeled him a terrorist and killed him.
In 2012 the UN Security Council named Rogo as a suspected terrorist for his role in attempting to bring down an Isreali charter jet as it took off from Mombasa. That was in 2002. He was also accused of financing the rebel group, Al-Shabab. Makaburi sees I’m struggling to adjust the hijab (scarf) to cover my hair. “Don’t wear that if you don’t want.” “I wanteded to show respect.” “Pretending to be someone or something you’re not is disrespecting yourself. Be yourself.” “What is your faith?” “I was – am – an atheist. I believe in a spirit.” “You are lost.” “I am not.” “You’re still looking for yourself.” “Then I guess I can still be radicalized.” “Do you like chocolate?” “Sure,” I shrugged.”Who doesn’t?” He throws me a snack size chocolate Cadbury candy bar. Surrounding him are his creature comforts ; Blue Band margarine. Laptop computer crowded with photos of mutilated young men he accuses of police of killing. One features a man with his penis stuffed in his mouth. He pops a chocolate in his mouth. He’s significantly larger than from photos two years previously – sporting a sizable “rubber tire” may not be so noticeable in a kanzu – complexion looks pasty from lack of sunlight, eyes puffy. Not surprising since he’s been more or less housebound since 2012 when the UN Security Council named him a suspected terrorist. He said the state could kill him at any time. The scarf slips off my shoulder exposing my décolletage. I quickly cover up in a protective gesture. “That’s a sign of modesty, it’s a woman’s instinct to cover up.” I peel back the wrapper off the melted candy bar. Chocolate’s all over my fingers. “We no longer have an Arabic culture [in Kenya]. Go to Shela (coastal village near Lamu) — where is the Swahili culture? You see half-naked women running around on the beach”.
He starts rapidly tapping his index finger starts against his desk, probably a nervous twitch from the sugar buzz. “Women are much sweeter when they’re wrapped up”. He smiles and laughs.”That’s why in Islam they wear the burka.” He knows that’s not entirely true. His aim seemed to shock.
Abubakar Shariff’s alias ‘Makaburi’ (Swahili for grave digger, an early occupation) was a marked man even before his ally Sheikh Rogo was gunned down. He’d been a staunch ally of the charismatic Rogo for years. Their days were numbered as soon as the UN Security Council identified the pair as ‘targeted terrorists’ in a 2012 security report.
After Rogo’s murder Makaburi became more vocal and preoccupied with his own death.
The idealist in me believes if the marginalized are given voice they may be less inclined to use violence.
The cynic in me suspects that politicians, diplomats and security forces have no intention of giving them voice. They don’t want peace. Peace means no more funding from the west. War is business. If anything they create enemies of the state.
In the remaining days and hours of Abubakar Shariff’s Makaburi’s life we chatted via social network apps about his and his recruits “longing” for death, “terrorism”, war, Erik Prince, and the future security of Kenya.
The conversations I had with Abubaker Shariff ‘Makaburi’ were “intimate” in the sense that he seemed candid and to trust me. Maybe he knew he would soon die and had nothing to lose. He certainly was very public about his “longing for death”, since these extrajudicials gave young jihadists a reason to continue fighting.
In this era of the seemingly endless propaganda dehumanizing Muslims and allowing western-backed security forces to kill with impunity, I wanted to understand his point of view – one that ostensibly represents the majority of coastal Kenyan nationals – and see whether it made any sense, whether he was authentic or whether it was mostly bullshit propaganda.
Soon after we connected via social app, Makaburi sent me four photos of two boys killed after the government issued a shoot to kill policy of any terror suspects connected to the Likoni church killings.
May I ask you….he said.
Shoot, I said.
Mak: Do you see smiles on their faces?
Margot: I see peace and surrender, I suppose. Otherwise, they looked dead.
Mak: Somebody says he sees a smile
3/29/14, 16:09:39: MakJengo: Shot yesterday on shoot to kill orders in likoni on suspected shooters in Likoni church Margot Kiser: Right I heard about this yesterday; do these boys have names? Mak: Haven’t gotten them yet Mak: Nikiyajua nitakutumia in sha Allah Margot Kiser: Afadali – nataka kuongea na family Margot Kiser: Thanks Mak: One is on the run fearing for his life Margot Kiser: And is the black and white material next to boy w black shirt supposed to be a jihad flag …or?? MakJengo: Don’t know Mak: I think its another body covered with that cloth with markings Mak: First and third picture are the same Margot Kiser: You think they were random targets?
someone said Likoni gunmen could either have been “primed by the state or freelance terrorists”…. 3/29/14, 16:19:12: MakJengo: They where not random Mak: Its a clean up job Mak: Anybody with terror links will vanish MakJengo: But i can give u on good authority they had nothing to do with the church affair Margot Kiser: Right. So, they just kill anyone w links to ideological or operative? 3/29/14, 16:22:47: MakJengo: Or would be operatives would be terrorist would be terror supporters etc 3/29/14, 16:23:31: Margot Kiser: But ideally people should be judged acc to has done not would be
3/29/14, 17:24:44: Margot Kiser: Guess you could say the boy wearing white is smiling
Margot Kiser: No more jihad: does Islam believe in reincarnation?
3/29/14, 17:25:46: MakJengo: Yes
7:25:53: Mak: In heaven
Margot Kiser: What made you turn to “radical” jihad?
MakJengo: In Islam we don’t accept the term “radical” of “moderate”.
3/29/14, 17:48:17: Margot Kiser: How would you describe what’s going on now in Mombasa b Muslims and police/security forces? Is it a dirty war or battle or skirmish? : Mak: The goverment is afraid of jihad starting in kenya, they think by killing all the players, they can stop it. But it fuels it. 3/29/14, 17:51:48: Margot Kiser: I see — preemptive. But how does the GOK USG not see how it fuels it? Mak: The ones giving orders dont know any other way Margot Kiser: Right. all they know is warfare. Mak: Its if we kill osama we. Kill alqaida way of thinking Mak: Its if we kill fazul we kill westgate
3/29/14, 16:18:20: Margot Kiser: You think they were random targets?
Someone said Likoni gunmen could either have been “primed by the state or freelance terrorists”…. 3/29/14, 16:19:12: MakJengo: They where not random 3/29/14, 16:19:22: MakJengo: Its a clean up job 3/29/14, 16:19:50: MakJengo: Anybody with terror links will vanish 3/29/14, 16:20:48: MakJengo: But i can give u on good authority they had nothing to do with the church affair 3/29/14, 16:21:58: Margot Kiser: Right. So, they just kill anyone w links to ideological or operative? 3/29/14, 16:22:47: MakJengo: Or would be operatives would be terrorist would be terror supporters etc 3/29/14, 16:23:31: Margot Kiser: But ideally people should be judged acc to has done not would be 3/29/14, 16:24:53: Margot Kiser: Do you think security forces are barking up the wrong tree by naming and targeting ideologues? 3/29/14, 16:25:21: Margot Kiser: Instead of operatives 3/29/14, 16:25:40: MakJengo: For us, they are barking. At the right tree. 3/29/14, 16:27:32: Margot Kiser: Right for Muslims in Mbsa and police every tree is the right tree 3/29/14, 16:29:40: MakJengo: When killings are random its good for the jihardis 3/29/14, 16:30:08: MakJengo: The more they kill, more people are convised of jihad as a means of salvation 3/29/14, 16:31:40: Margot Kiser: Vicious barking and biting circle. The more jihadists kill the more reason police have to justify expenditures and shoot to kill policy.
Margot Kiser: Some people think you are alive because the you’ve been bought by the gov.
3/29/14, 17:30:43: MakJengo: I believe the day i will die has already been ordained, it just hasn’t arrived yet.
3/29/14, 17:31:55: MakJengo: And nobody can stop death, bought or not.
3/29/14, 17:32:01: Margot Kiser: Myself I like to think I control when I die. Which is an illusion.
3/29/14, 17:34:02: MakJengo: Kweli, its an illusion because you are afraid of death, as you don’t know or believe whats going to happen after death. 3/29/14, 17:36:19:
Margot Kiser: I am afraid of death like most. You know most of (western and eastern) economies are built on the lie that one can avoid death — beauty products, diet fads, rhino horn etc 3/29/14, 17:37:19:
MakJengo: Rhino horn does not avert death; it’s for other uses
3/29/14, 17:39:15: MakJengo: Islam helps us prepare and for some long for Death
3/29/14, 17:40:00: Margot Kiser: Why do some long for death? Life too painful?
3/29/14, 17:41:01: MakJengo: Life is short and decieving, they long for the better life, islam has promised them
3/29/14, 17:42:05: Margot Kiser: And Virgins are waiting? What is waiting for Islamic women when they die?
3/29/14, 17:42:43: MakJengo: Their husbands or better husbands 3/29/14,
Hmm, I thought to myself that seems a raw deal to me. Maybe I’d convert to Islam if I believed dozens of young virgin men were waiting for me on the other side.
17:11:27: Margot Kiser: Right. Please tell me why Rogo’s life as leader and his death (versus those of other assassinated leaders in community) had such a huge effect on people? His death being a watershed moment…. How was he special?
3/29/14, 17:12:24: MakJengo: His character compared to other sheikhs
3/29/14, 17:12:40: MakJengo: The subject he preached
3/29/14, 17:12:57: MakJengo: Humility towards other people
3/29/14, 17:13:34: Margot Kiser: His subject was mainly..,?
3/29/14, MakJengo: Always smiling even to his critics
3/29/14, 17:16:37: Margot Kiser: what’s the current battlefield? Somalia? Or streets of MBSA?
3/29/14, 17:16:51: MakJengo: Americans always hide behind other people
3/29/14, 17:18:05: MakJengo: Somalia is a battlefield, mombasa is for survival
3/29/14, 17:18:05: MakJengo: We have to fight to live
3/29/14, 17:18:05: MakJengo: No justice for us
3/31/14, 16:20:42: Margot Kiser: No, I suppose not. How often you get out of your house? You were at court the other day I thought I saw. 3/31/14, 16:21:08: MakJengo: No restrictions 3/31/14, 16:28:05: Margot Kiser: But you sense if you go outside too often police may kill you. Especially now w this shoot to kill policy…. 3/31/14, 16:28:18: Margot Kiser: So it’s your choice … 3/31/14, 16:29:39: Margot Kiser: Are or were you a sheikh, preacher, imam or cleric? 3/31/14, 16:30:32: MakJengo: I go or don’t go by choice not by being afraid of getting killed. They can do it anytime anywhere. Its not my problem its theirs. 3/31/14, 16:53:45: Margot Kiser: Where or how did you learn to speak and English so well? 3/31/14, 16:54:05: Margot Kiser: speak and write English… 3/31/14, 16:54:54: MakJengo: Dont write so well 3/31/14, 16:55:08: MakJengo: Dont have a good memory 3/31/14, 16:56:06: Margot Kiser: Where or how did you learn? 3/31/14, 16:57:38: MakJengo: Maybe in school 3/31/14, 16:57:57: MakJengo: Used to love reading 3/31/14, 16:58:01: Margot Kiser: Reading alot too I suppose 3/31/14, 16:58:40: Margot Kiser: Why “used to”? Reading is the best way to learn to write. 3/31/14, 17:00:14: Margot Kiser: You don’t have”readers” those cheap non prescription reading glasses. 3/31/14, 17:00:17: Margot Kiser: ? 3/31/14, 17:00:31: MakJengo: No 3/31/14, 17:04:13: Margot Kiser: They cost maybe 2,000 or so at Nakumatt or some optician shop in a mall. Theyre more or less same strength lens. Just Magnifying glasses. Prescription glasses cost Mingi times more. What did you like to read? Can you recite Quran ? What else did you like to read? 3/31/14, 17:05:41: MakJengo: Nakumat 3/31/14, 17:06:54: Margot Kiser: Depends on which Nakumatt. 3/31/14, 17:07:18: MakJengo: So which nakumat in msa 3/31/14, 17:11:30: Margot Kiser: I would say the fancy one in the big shopping center in Nyali. That’s the only mall I’ve noticed that has an optician.I don’t know the other Nakumatts in MBSA. 3/31/14, 17:12:10: Margot Kiser: There’s one in Likoni right 3/31/14, 17:12:23: Margot Kiser: They’re everywhere these days 3/31/14, 17:12:28: MakJengo: Ok will try kesho 3/31/14, 17:30:06: MakJengo: Eastliegh bomb blast 3/31/14, 17:30:12: MakJengo: Breaking news 3/31/14, 17:32:56: Margot Kiser: Would AS or “sympathizers” bomb their own people? 3/31/14, 17:33:41: Margot Kiser: Trying to find. No KTN here…. 3/31/14, 17:34:11: MakJengo: No
3/31/14, 18:04:47: MakJengo: Where does ur husband fit in ur life
3/31/14, 18:05:28: Margot Kiser: Don’t ask 3/31/14, 18:06:35: MakJengo: Pole if i touched a nerve 3/31/14, 18:07:06: Margot Kiser: It’s ok. We are estranged. 3/31/14, 18:07:22: MakJengo: Pole sana 3/31/14, 18:07:33: Margot Kiser: Thanks
Mak What do you expect after death?
Margot Kiser I am trying to lower my expectations these days. I try not to think about death.
Mak You should always think about death. If I was always thinking of death I wouldn’t be living.MakJengo: you would be living more fully.
Mak: Death is the ultimate policeman for the god-fearing man
Please tell me how did you get on that 2012 UN list of targets and financiers?
3/29/14, 19:55:27: MakJengo: Its all lies dont have the cash to even finance a reporter like u let alone al shabab 3/29/14, 19:56:19: MakJengo: I think its the NSIS who profiled us as financiers and the un just copied and pasted. 3/29/14, 20:37:30: Margot Kiser: In other words these imams you hear about (Bahero eg the other day) because they’re in a position of influence and must chose one side or the other 3/29/14, 20:37:52: Margot Kiser: Hence the “Youths” ousting the moderates right? 3/29/14, 20:39:10: MakJengo: Idris was not ousted for that reason, dont believe the papers 3/29/14, 20:39:50: Margot Kiser: Where do you stand? How do you remain neutral? Surely you must be in same boat, as it were? You could be as easily killed by suspicious youths as gov no? 3/29/14, 20:40:26: MakJengo: Youths no, gava yes 3/29/14, 20:41:14: Margot Kiser: So exactly who is “ousting the moderates”? 3/29/14, 20:41:30: MakJengo: Nobody 3/29/14, 20:42:25: Margot Kiser: Your friend the activist Z says the youth aren’t that angry. Hmm wonder why was Idris ousted? 3/29/14, 20:43:21: MakJengo: He was not only ousted by the youth but also by his own congregation who are modetate 3/29/14, 20:43:53: MakJengo: And he does not know the youth in msa 3/29/14, 20:44:20: Margot Kiser: Ok he’s a NBI guy …. 3/29/14, 20:45:35: MakJengo: Yap 3/29/14, 20:46:47: MakJengo: This is the problem, everybody speaks for the youth but the youth.
3/31/14, 18:45:21: Margot Kiser: a lot of the things you say make sense to me eg: why should it be legal for other govs to kill suspected ‘terrorists’ but not legal for Muslims or any members of an oppressed group to defend themselves from aggressors. Are you guilty of any of the accusations leveled at you by UN/US? am quoting much of this almost directly from the 2012 report : Makaburi is alleged to be a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for ‘violent military activity in Somalia’. He’s accused of providing material support to extremist groups in Kenya and for frequently traveling to al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia to meet w extremists leaders. Makaburi has been known to preach at Mussa mosque “that young men should travel there [to Somalia], commit extremist acts, fight for al Qaida and kill US citizens.” Any of these specific accusations true?
3/31/14, 18:46:13: Mak: Some are
Margot Kiser: …..
Mak: Some are bullshit
Mak: Go to somalia to fight jihad yes
Margot Kiser: Which are bullshit?
3/31/14, 18:47:18: Mak: Commit extremist acts……..
3/31/14, 18:47:30: Margot Kiser: Kill Americans?
3/31/14, 18:47:29: Mak: Finance
3/31/14, 18:47:30: MakJengo: ..
3/31/14, 18:47:46: MakJengo: Kill Americans…….
3/31/14, 18:47:53: Mak: Let me ask u
3/31/14, 18:48:07: Margot Kiser: Shoot
3/31/14, 18:48:39: Mak: Americans are invading other peoples lands, taking them prisoner, torturing them.
3/31/14, 18:17:04: Margot Kiser: Are you trying to convert me?
Mak: Nobody can convert u except u
Margot Kiser: That’s sounds like something a preacher might say
Mak: Well i am not a preacher
Mak: I am a terrorist remember
Mak: With no significance.
So, Makaburi “admits” he’s a terrorist and that it’s justifiable for Islam to retaliate. His use of the loaded word ‘terrorist’ was ironic. Some feel he was no more of a terrorist than the police and governments who have harassed him and the Muslim communities worldwide since 9/11. His irony however would have been entirely lost on whoever it was monitoring him.
Somewhat spookily, the day before he died I sent him a clip from a movie on the plane which happened to be “The Man who Knew to Much” with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, set in Marrakech. Stewart and Day are wandering around the medina when An Arab man staggers toward them and falls down in front of him. He’d been knifed in the back and we’d been wearing black face.
3/31/14, 16:07:11: Margot Kiser: beea5126f9a39025d66539e37b650646.MOV 3/31/14, 16:08:19: Margot Kiser: I’m in Moroco where I’ve never been and on the plane stumbled upon this famous film from 50s that takes place in Casablanca. 3/31/14, 16:09:18: MakJengo: U really get arround 3/31/14, 16:12:28: Margot Kiser: Have been meaning to visit here for a long time. I rarely stay in one place long anyway. 3/31/14, 16:13:50: Margot Kiser: Have you been to North Africa? 3/31/14, 16:14:05: MakJengo: Never 3/31/14, 16:14:25: MakJengo: And now never will.
Death Squads in Kenya’s Shadow War on Shabaab Sympathizers
The United States supports Nairobi’s fight against terrorists, but it’s getting very ugly.
MOMBASA, Kenya—“The state wants to kill me,” the 53-year-old jihadist Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, better known as “Makaburi,” told me in late February. He said he was sure that one day he’d be gunned down by “unknown assailants” on a street in Mombasa. That’s how so many controversial Islamic leaders have died in Kenya in recent months, he said. And then, earlier this week, the prophecy came true.
On Tuesday, “unknown assailants” gunned down Makaburi as he was leaving a courthouse outside Mombasa. Makaburi was waiting by the side of the road along with four other preachers when a vehicle pulled up and sprayed them with bullets. Witnesses reportedly saw Makaburi’s body, swaddled in a white kanzu, or robe, lying partly in a ditch. His colleague Sheikh Bohero also was killed.
Young men in the neighborhood told a local reporter that the two shooters were dressed in white kanzus, too, suggesting they were Muslims, and perhaps known to Makaburi and the others. But few in Kenya credit that possibility. The record of murders in recent months provides ample indication that a dirty war is being waged. Its evident purpose is to exterminate and intimidate people believed to be associated with the Al Shabaab movement in neighboring Somalia. For several reasons, those carrying it out may believe they have at least the tacit support of the United States, and, as often happens with dirty wars and death squad operations, this murderous campaign appears be galvanizing the opposition it aims to destroy.
Makaburi (the nickname means grave digger in Swahili) preached at the Musa mosque in Mombasa, which is considered an incubator of radicalism, and Makaburi recruited fighters there for Al Shabaab, which has developed close ties with Al Qaeda. On Sunday, February 2, security forces raided the mosque for hosting what the police described as a “jihad convention.” They stormed the building, firing tear gas and live rounds in a raid that resulted in 129 arrests and eight deaths, including that of a policeman. Before that, two other clerics associated with the place had died in a hail of bullets.
When Makaburi and I talked in February, he claimed that the others had been “assassinated” in “retaliation” for last year’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, in which members of Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for killing at least 67 civilians and injuring hundreds. But the killings started before that, as one radical imam after another has been murdered or disappeared. Religious leaders say Kenyan security forces are targeting them unfairly for persecution if not indeed for summary execution, but the police argue they have clear intelligence linking many of the local preachers to Somali terrorists.
“DON’T WORRY, I AM NOT GOING TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD”
Makaburi told me when I saw him that he thought the only reason he was still alive was that Kenya feared domestic unrest. Some of the “unknown assailant” murders have led to bloody rioting. But whoever killed him seems to have thought the risk worth taking, and days after the shooting the reaction is still muted.
On the day we met, Makaburi was as welcoming and relaxed as he could be. Our three-hour interview took place in his cockpit-sized apartment in Mombasa’s run-down Majengo district, which has been the epicenter of recent violence. Around him he’d arrayed a desktop computer, a wall-mounted plasma TV with images of Muslims he said the police had tortured, miniature copies of the Qur’an, and a few creature comforts: an industrial-size bag of mini chocolate bars, and tubs of Blue Band margarine.
Behind Makaburi’s head was pinned a black flag with the profession of faith, the shahada, written on it: “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his messenger” and, beneath it, a single primitively drawn sword.
“Don’t worry, I am not going to suck your blood,” Makaburi assured me. I’d been struggling to cover my hair with a scarf to use as a hijab. He asked if it were bothering me. “Don’t wear it if you don’t want,” he said. “Pretending to be something you’re not is disrespecting yourself. Just be yourself.”
The genial imam made an interesting contrast with the image of him painted by the United States, the United Nations and Kenyan authorities.
A 2012 U.S. Treasury report blocking the assets of several people suspected of supporting Al Shabaab closely mirrors language also adopted by the United Nations Security Council (PDF), and it reads like a ringing indictment of Makaburi:
“He provides material support to extremist groups in Kenya and elsewhere in East Africa. Through his frequent trips to al-Shabaab strongholds in Somalia, including Kismaayo, he has been able to maintain strong ties with senior al-Shabaab members,” the U.S. report said. Makaburi “also engaged in the mobilization and management of funding for al-Shabaab,” he “has preached at mosques in Mombasa that young men should travel to Somalia, commit extremist acts, fight for al-Qa’ida, and kill U.S. citizens.” He was “a leader of a Kenya-based youth organization in Mombasa with ties to al-Shabaab” and “acted as recruiter and facilitator for al-Shabaab in the Majengo area of Mombasa.”
Some of the accusations, Makaburi told me, “are bullshit—like ‘committing extremist acts’ and ‘financing terror.’” He pulled out a desk drawer and removed a few filthy currency notes. “This is all I have—640 Kenya shillings,” which would be less than $10. “I don’t have enough to fund a reporter, let alone a terrorist organization.” But then he went on. Some of the accusations “are correct,” he said. He made no apology for recruiting young men to wage jihad in Somalia.
“Radicalizing the youths is the only direction to go when the Kenyan government won’t allow the constitution to protect them and when police are killing sheikhs and imams extrajudicially,” said Makaburi. “Are we supposed to take this lying down?”
The accusation that Makaburi encouraged young men to kill Americans touched a nerve—and did not elicit a denial. “Let me ask you,” he said, “Americans are invading other people’s lands, taking them prisoners, renditioning them and torturing them. Raping and killing innocent women and children is not allowed in warfare.” The argument is boilerplate Al Qaeda, but many people in developing countries, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, find it persuasive.
When the post-9/11 Global War on Terror waged by the Bush administration was at its height, Kenya became an important player in American eyes. Since 2003 Kenya has received extensive aid from the State Department’s anti-terrorism assistance fund and a program now known as the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, or PREACT. Among its objectives, according to the State Department, “It uses law enforcement, military, and development resources to achieve its strategic objectives, including reducing the operational capacity of terrorist networks.”
Things intensified when Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011 in an operation called Linda Nchi (Swahili for “Protect the Country”), ostensibly in reaction to kidnappings of tourists in northern Kenya. It was considered inevitable that Al Shabaab would try to strike back on Kenyan territory.
Al Shabaab’s ideological and military leaders regrouped and began recruiting Kenyans to fight in Somalia and build support in Kenya. This was where Makaburi’s work became important.
The July 2012 U.N. report on Shabaab-related activity identified a homegrown Kenyan group called al-Hijra under the leadership of the charismatic Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Makaburi. After those published reports a growing number of clerics and imams were killed or—in human rights parlance—“forcefully disappeared.”
In May 2012 blind cleric Mohammed Kassim and fellow hardline cleric Samir Khan were traveling to Manjengo when men in a white Toyota van stopped them by the side of the road. The pair had been charged with possession of illegal firearms and recruitment of youths to Al Shabaab, but not convicted, just the kind of situation that tends to precede extrajudicial killings. Khan’s mutilated body was found in Voi, some 150 miles from Mombasa. Kassim’s body has not been found, and if he is alive his whereabouts are unkown.
On August 27, 2012, one month after the U.N. report was published, “unidentified assailants” gunned down Rogo as he drove his wife home from a Mombasa hospital. Weeks before his assassination the sheikh had contacted human rights groups saying that he feared for his life, but they were unable to help him. Rogo’s death sparked days of rioting in Mombasa. Young men took to the streets, hurled grenades and burned churches.
“It’s difficult to say who killed Rogo,” says Jonathan Horowitz, the legal representative with Open Source Foundation’s National Security and Counterterrorism Justice unit, funded by philanthropist George Soros. “But when you look at circumstantial evidence, the pattern of events, the modus operandi, and the audacity with which the killing took place, it all points to the hand of the state.”
After Rogo died, Makaburi was his natural successor. “He was more than a brother to me,” Makaburi told me, and Makaburi was outraged at what he regarded as a US-government-funded extermination project:
“I am the one who is accused of radicalizing when it’s the police who are radicalizing the Muslim youth by killing us.”
Meanwhile, Al Shabaab and its allies have not remained passive. The Westgate Mall attack commanded global attention day after day last September, but it was part of a much wider pattern of violence. According to the report “Kenya and the Global War on Terror” issued by the London School of Economics, “Shabaab and its sympathizers have conducted more than 50 separate grenade attacks in Kenya, believed to be in retaliation for Operation Linda Nchi and more widely the foreign policy of Kenya.”
Most of the extremist attacks have occurred in northeastern Kenya near the Somali border. But the violence made headlines again in November last year when two grenade attacks occurred in Diani, a tourist resort town south of Mombasa. On December 12 police said a grenade was hurled at a minivan carrying two British tourists. The grenade never exploded and the tourists were unharmed.
On January 2 a grenade exploded in a sports bar in the same tourist town and authorities labeled it a “terrorist attack.” There were no fatalities in either incident but they were widely reported in the international media.
The tit-for-tat violence grew increasingly brutal. On December 3, the headless body of Faiz Rufai, a former Shabaab member and madrassa teacher believed to have turned informant, was discovered washed ashore on a remote beach up the coast. Al Shabaab “sympathizers” allegedly carried out the beheading and posted a camera-phone video of the decapitation on Facebook.
Word went out in jihadist circles that Rufai’s handler in the security services was Athmed Bakshwein, a 61-year old police reservist, who was also said to have played an important role in other terrorist cases. On January 28, Bakshwein was gunned down in broad daylight as he was parking his car in front of a hardware store in his hometown of Malindi.
Leaflets circulated in Mombasa featured the image of Bakshwein’s bullet-riddled corpse and called him a traitor to Islam. “Supporters of jihad have begun killing informers,” proclaimed the flyer. “It is a sign that jihad is not far. … May Allah clean the mosque of informer imams and traitors and finish them one by one.”
The Kenyan police assault on the “jihadist convention” at the Musa mosque came just days later.
When I met with Makaburi to discuss all this, he was defiant. “I challenge Obama to give me my day in court anywhere in the USA to prove that I am financing Al Shabab. I am willing to travel today,” Makaburi told me.
Makaburi never got his day in a US court. But at the time of his death Makaburi had several cases against the police pending in Kenya. Last week, days before he was gunned down, the high court awarded him $7,718 in damages for the violation of his rights when police raided his house in 2011.
The violence continues to mount. Last month armed men attacked a church in Likoni, leaving eight people dead, including a young boy. Since then Kenya has asked the United States for more funding to combat terror. U.S. Ambassador Robert F. Godec said that recent sporadic violence in Mombasa was a sign that terrorism in Kenya was a real threat and vowed to stand by Kenya’s side. In a statement issued this week Godec said the United States “deplores the recent violence on the Kenyan coast,” including the murder of Makaburi, and called for “calm and restraint.” He also called for the Kenyan government to “undertake full investigations” of the “murders” of the Muslim clerics and the “terrorist attack” on the church. Those responsible, he said, should be held accountable “through the Kenyan justice system.”
In response to questions from The Daily Beast about the impact U.S. aid has on Kenyan counter-terror operations, Godec said “all training includes modules devoted to respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
But Horowitz’s summation of the situation is probably more realistic. “Groups that subscribe to violent extremism often justify their actions by citing the government’s human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions,” he said after Makaburi was gunned down. “But the Kenya government has a lot to answer for… Ending these murders and ending violent extremism in Kenya are inseparable. The Kenyan government has failed to grasp this.”
When I met with Makaburi in his little apartment, he seemed completely resigned to his fate. He had been born in Mombasa and brought up there. His father, who worked in a box factory, was fixing a fan one day at home and got electrocuted. “He died when I was a child still crawling,” said Makaburi. Death happens. Life has strange twists. As he and his brothers grew up they took different paths. In fact, one of his brothers works for the Kenyan intelligence service, he told me. “Sheik Rogo used to say my mother was fair: she gave one son to Obama and the other to Osama.”
Then Makaburi said, simply, “I am waiting to be killed.” And so he was.