Kenya police accused of counter-terror abuses

Young men being arrested in Mombasa, Kenya - October 2013
Image caption The report focuses on alleged abuses in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa

Kenyan counter-terrorism officers have been accused of carrying out extra-judicial killings and other abuses in a report by US and Kenyan rights groups.

The Open Society Justice Initiative and Kenya's Muslims for Human Rights said the police often tortured detainees.

Their report said arbitrary arrests and disappearances were also widespread, especially in Mombasa, a city with a large Muslim population.

Officials have not responded, but they have denied similar claims in the past.

The US and UK governments support Kenya's anti-terror police with training and equipment.

The report said such assistance should be suspended to any unit where there was credible evidence that the police had committed human rights violations.

The BBC's Africa security correspondent Moses Rono says that would be a difficult decision to take as Kenya's counter-terrorism efforts are key to stemming spreading Islamist militancy in East Africa.

The September attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Kenya's, capital, Nairobi, in which 67 were killed has added pressure on the authorities to act or be seen to be trying to stop terror attacks, he says.

The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab said it was behind the four-day siege.

'Difficult business'

In the report titled We're Tired of Taking You to the Court researchers spoke to more than 40 people over the last year.

They found that the Anti-Terror Police Unit (APTU) tortured detainees to get them to admit links to terrorism, and arbitrary detentions and disappearances were widespread.

The report called for official investigations to be carried out into the disappearances and killings of at least 20 individuals suspected of terrorism-related activities.

These included the recent assassinations in Mombasa of two Muslim clerics alleged to have links to al-Shabab.

Kenya's security forces have previously denied allegations that they were behind the killings.

Image caption A man who survived the drive-by shooting of a Muslim cleric in October

According to the report one officer told a detainee at a police station: "We're tired of taking you to the court. Next time we'll finish you off in the field."

The report quoted a lawyer telling a court hearing: "My clients have complained to me that investigators used a pair of pliers to squeeze their private parts."

Such tactics violate human rights and are counterproductive to counter-terrorism efforts, the report said.

The investigation focused primarily on abuses committed in Mombasa in 2012 and 2013, but the report says "the ATPU's broader pattern of rights violations extends back years earlier".

It pointed to illegal renditions to Somalia and Ethiopia in 2007 and at least nine suspects who were rendered to Uganda in 2010 following the World Cup bombings in Kampala.

An anti-terror police officer told the BBC that counter-terrorism was a difficult business and it was not easy to find evidence to link suspects to terrorism.

He said witnesses were often unwilling to testify, some suspects were killed in shootouts, and others fled the country to avoid prosecution.

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