Dec 8 2014
Kenya has been in the crosshairs of the transnational jihadi movement. In the past, the fact that Kenya was seen as being firmly in the western sphere of influence made Kenya a target, with most of the incidents, including the 1998 US embassy attack, targeting western interests. Kenya’s Muslim population is only 11% but the cause of much unrest in the country.
Al-Jazeera (h/t Guy I) However, after Kenya’s intervention in Somalia in 2011, the country itself become a target. Islamic errorism activity in Kenya reached a peak with the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in September 2013, when unidentified gunmen killed 67 people and injured almost 200 others.
As a response to the growing terrorism threat, the Kenyan government created the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in March 2003, following the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned Mombasa hotel. This was also accompanied by the passage of Anti-Terrorism Act in 2012. As part of the wider counterterrorism effort, the government also began a huge on the Somali and Muslim communities especially in Nairobi, parts of Northern Kenya and coastal Kenya.
As the crackdown intensified, a number of extrajudicial killings of Muslim preachers took place, some in the coastal city of Mombasa. Most of the victims were of having connections with Somalia’s al-Shabab group.
While in almost all the cases the police deny culpability, research by human rights organisations reveals the ATPU’s involvement. In its August 2014 report, “Kenya: Killings, disappearance by anti-terror police,” HRW points to ” …evidence of at least 10 cases of extrajudicial killings of terrorism suspects, some of whom were last seen in ATPU custody or had been threatened by the unit’s officers after courts had released them”.
The Kenyan government has accused some of the clerics who were killed of recruiting Muslim youth for terrorism activities through their mosques. However, despite initiating investigations against them, the government never followed through to prosecute the imams.
After public outcry over the killing of Muslim cleric Ibrahim “Rogo” Omar, the government set up a task force to investigate his murder. The director of public prosecution promised in 2013 that he will institute an inquest, but has not done so yet.
One of the commissions established following the 2007-2008 violence to look at the role of the police, was the Waki Commission. Established to look into the circumstances and facts surrounding the violence and provide recommendations, the Waki Commission found that of the 1,500 deaths, the police was responsible for more than 30 percent of them.
As a result several reform measures were proposed including the establishment of a civilian oversight of the police, and many other reforms. However, due to lack of political will, the police reforms have stalled.
The extrajudicial killings by the police in Kenya are anchored in a systemic lack of accountability and deeply entrenched culture of pervasive impunity. While the police undoubtedly face ever changing security challenges, its involvement in extrajudicial killings make matters worse. Effective security sector reform is the only way forward.