Muslim cleric's killing sparks riots in Kenya

The shooting death Monday of Muslim cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo, who is under US sanctions for ties to the Islamist militant group Al Shabab, has renewed concerns about extrajudicial killings in Kenya.

Protesting Muslim youths stand next to burning tires in Mombasa, Kenya, Monday, Aug. 27, after Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric facing terror-related charges, was shot dead.

Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa has been rocked by violent protests after Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric and one of three Kenyans under sanction by the US for ties to the militant Al Shabab group, was shot dead.

One person was reported to have died in the clashes between the police and Muslim youths, in which four churches were vandalized and vehicles set ablaze. The  protesters fought the police, whom some accused of a role in the cleric's death, for the custody of the dead preacher's body.

The killing has raised concerns once again in Kenya about extrajudicial killings that preempt legal proceedings. Sheikh Rogo, a radical Islamist preacher, was facing several charges of terrorism in courts in Nairobi and Mombasa, together with Abubaker Sharif Ahmed and Omar Awadh Omar. The three are accused of recruiting non-Somali Africans into Al Shabab. A UN report said Sheikh Rogo had also helped obtain funding for the group.

"The murder of Aboud Rogo is a terrible crime," says Ben Rawlence, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The fact that he is not the first suspect to have died while awaiting trial will only raise suspicions. It's another sad day for Kenya."

According to eyewitnesses, the cleric was killed close to the entrance of a public beach near the Bamburi area on Mombasa-Malindi highway, an important tourist route. 

He was driving towards Mtwapa, a suburb north of the city, when unknown assailants sprayed bullets on the van he driving in the company of other six people. His wife, Haniya Said, who was traveling with him and a daughter, accused the police of killing her husband. She told reporters that Sheikh Rogo was taking one of the people in the van to hospital when he was killed.

Al Amin Kimathi, the chairman of Kenya Muslims for Human Rights Forum ( MUHURI), a neutral group that seeks to promote human rights among marginalized communities, said the killing raised unwelcome memories of past killer squads.

“We are shocked that the so-called war on terror has gained this frightening dimension above the usually heavyhanded methods employed by the antiterrorism agencies in the past,” he said.  “We call on Kenyans to see this killing and the as a throwback to a few years gone by when the preferred method of dealing with suspected members of criminal gangs was extermination by killer squads.”

Two months ago, the US Treasury said it was placing sanctions on six Africans, including Sheikh Rogo, freezing any US-based assets and forbidding any US business or individual from having dealings with them. Around the same time, the UN Security Council also imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on the cleric for allegedly providing financial, material, and logistical support to Al Shabab.

Sheikh Rogo is believed to have had close links to Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the leader of the Al Qaeda network in East Africa, whom a US court indicted in 2008 for the 1998 US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Mr. Fazul was killed in 2011 by Somali policemen when he made a wrong turn at junction in the country’s capital, Mogadishu.

The cleric allegedly introduced Mohammed Kubwa Mohammed to Fazul, whose daughter he later married. Kubwa was later accused of playing a big role in the 2002 attack on the Israel-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.

The Coast Criminal Police boss, Ambrose Munyasia, said it was a "shoot and run" incident, denying allegations that the police were involved in the killing.

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he was shocked and saddened by the tragic shooting.

“I am equally saddened by the violence and the destruction that has followed the shooting incident. I want to appeal to our people in Mombasa to exercise restraint and allow the government to get to the bottom of the matter,” said Mr. Odinga.

“We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice. I appeal to our people not to use this sad act to inflict more pain and suffering on our country.”

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