Africa

The Muslim cleric who predicted he would be killed

  • 9 April 2014
  • From the section Africa

Police in Kenya say they have detained nearly 4,000 people in the past week in a massive security operation. The arrests come after the killing of a controversial Muslim preacher in the city of Mombasa, as Gabriel Gatehouse reports for BBC Newsnight.

Abubakar Shariff Ahmed's supporters have accused the Kenyan security forces of being behind the shooting. Suspicion has fallen in particular on the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU), which is funded by the UK and US.

I met him in December: an affable man with a bad reputation. His name featured on a UN sanctions list, accused of facilitating and recruiting terrorists.

He was more commonly known as Makaburi. It means "graveyard" in Swahili. He had told me that Kenyan police were planning to assassinate him.

"I do not fear for my safety," he had said at his fourth floor flat in the Majengo area of Mombasa.

"I know they are going to kill me. But I am a true Muslim. I believe I will only die the day Allah has ordained for me to die. Not a moment before, not a moment after."

'Two final gunshots'

The moment of his death came shortly after 6pm on 1 April. Makaburi was leaving a courthouse on the outskirts of Mombasa. Witnesses told us they saw a car approaching from out of town. It did a U-turn outside a high-security prison attached to the court.

"That's when I heard gunfire," said Mohammed Saidi, who was with Makaburi when he was shot.

"We pushed each other as we tried to get down, so that we wouldn't get hit. We dived into a ditch and lay down. I heard two final gunshots. Then everything went silent."

Majengo area of Mombasa
The Majengo area of Mombasa has been tense since the killing

Makaburi was the third high-profile terror suspect to be shot and killed along the same stretch of road in the past two years.

In private, Kenyan security officials have made no secret of their involvement in the killing of terror suspects. Late last year, a Mombasa-based security officer told me Makaburi's "days were numbered".

When I spoke to that same officer last week, he said his unit had not been directly involved in the shooting, but that the hit had been planned and executed by security officers from outside Mombasa.

Al Amin Kimathi, a Nairobi-based human rights activist, reports having similar conversations.

"I've spoken to people within the security agencies who own up and even come out to say: 'You ain't seen nothing yet, we are going to do more of this. We kill, we shoot them to kill, not to detain them'."

Britain accused

That conversation, Mr Kimathi said, took place at one of the offices of the ATPU, which receives training and funding from the UK and the US.

In a report published last November, two human rights groups documented what they said were dozens of cases of disappearances and extrajudicial killings carried out by the ATPU in recent years.

Makaburi himself had made similar accusations.

He had told me: "The British government is helping the ATPU in Kenya kill Muslims by training them and providing them with logistical support and giving them money. And we are supposed to be the terrorists."

It's not clear whether the ATPU was involved in the shooting of Makaburi, but late last year one ATPU officer told me the police had lost faith in the courts and preferred instead to "eliminate" terror suspects.

Khelef Khalifa, who runs the Mombasa-based group Muslims for Human Rights, which co-authored November's report, fears the methods employed by the ATPU, far from reducing radicalisation, will have the opposite effect.

Joseph Ole Lenku (L) with police officials
Joseph Ole Lenku (L) denies any official involvement in any extrajudicial killings

"If Britain or any other Western country fund this unit, and this unit violates the rights of Kenyans, so the anger also goes to the British taxpayers: why is their money being used for these extrajudicial killings?"

There is no doubt Kenya has a problem with terrorism, and with radicalisation.

In response to a recent series of explosions, shootings and terror alerts, the security forces have deployed extra officers across the country. Thousands of people, many of them ethnic Somalis, have been detained.

Clear message

The authorities are sending out a clear message: "We're getting tough."

But, speaking to Newsnight, Kenya's interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, denied any official involvement in the killing of Makaburi or any other extrajudicial killing.

"[That] is either an allegation, outright lies, or malice. I am speaking on behalf of the security forces. And that's the truth. So you choose to take the truth, or you take the rumours."

The Foreign Office said in a statement that it regularly monitored the ATPU, and challenged them on allegations of human rights abuses.

"If there is credible evidence that our support is being misused, we will take immediate action," it said.

You can watch Gabriel's film on full on Newsnight at 22:30 BST on BBC Two on Wednesday, or later via the BBC iPlayer or Newsnight website.

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