In this photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, an influential member of a controversial mosque where two previous mosque leaders were killed under mysterious circumstances, sits in his office in Mombasa, Kenya. Writing in Arabic on islamist flag reads “There is no God but God and Muhammed is his messenger”. (AP Photo / Jason Straziuso)
MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) — In August 2012, a leader of a Kenyan mosque that has attracted extremist followers was shot dead as he drove through the streets of Mombasa. Fourteen months later, another leader of the same mosque met the same fate. There have been no arrests in either case.
Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, an Islamic community leader associated with the same mosque, is certain that he will also be killed. And he believes – as do many others – that the police haven’t solved the two high-profile killings because they are the ones who carried them out. Riots broke out in Mombasa after Aboud Rogo was killed in August 2012 and after Sheik Ibrahim Ismael was killed in October, and tensions remain high in this shabby seaside city ringed by high-end resorts that sit on white-sand beaches.
While the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi in September was the highest-profile terrorist action by Islamic extremists in East Africa since the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, a low-level conflict has been simmering for years in the region, particularly in Kenya which has been a recruiting ground for the Somali group al-Shabab and where police are accused of kidnapping and killing suspected extremists.
The latest U.S. State Department report on human rights practices in Kenya says security forces are suspected of being responsible for a number of forced disappearances. “At least half dozen prominent Muslim leaders alleged to have terrorist ties were victims of killings or forced disappearances,” the report says.
Ahmed, who dyes his beard orange and speaks fluent Arabic after living for almost 20 years in the United Arab Emirates, makes statements he knows to be controversial, such as saying the al-Shabab gunmen who attacked the Westgate Mall, killing 67 people, were justified because of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia.
A July report from the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea accuses Ahmed of ties to a Kenyan terror group known as al-Hijra and says he wants terrorist attacks become more deadly.
Ahmed denies it and counters that Muslims have no legal recourse to fight back against the oppression he says exists in Kenya. He believes he will be killed because of his outspokenness.
“I’m living on borrowed time. The same guy who ordered Aboud Rogo’s death is going to order mine,” Ahmed told The Associated Press in his cramped office in an apartment block where he sits under a black flag with Arabic writing on it that says “There is no God but Allah.”
Ahmed has no official connection with the Masjid Musa Mosque, which is governed by committee, but he attends the mosque and is someone whom worshippers will listen to. The U.S. State Department report says Rogo and Ahmed survived an abduction attempt in July 2012.
Ahmed says he is “duty-bound” to avenge the death of his friend, Rogo. He says he has offered a bounty of about $11,500 to any police officer who will tell him which fellow police officer killed Rogo.
Meanwhile, police have largely kept quiet about any investigation they may be conducting into the Oct. 4 shooting deaths of Ismael and three others who were in the car with him. The coastal police chief did not respond to repeated calls for comment. A national police spokesman told AP to call back later but then turned off his phone.
Family members of the victims doubt there has been any investigation at all.
The bullet-riddled car – an AP reporter counted 25 bullet holes in the car’s right side, six in the front, and one in the back – sits at the wood shop of the 35-year-old who had been driving it. Mohamed Hamoud, the father of the slain driver, says no authorities have ever examined the car – not even at the scene – or interviewed any family members.
“Nothing. Nobody has approached us. It is the government that did the work,” Hamoud said.
A barrage of bullets also killed Mohammed in August 2012 as he drove in Mombasa with his family.
In the interview, Ahmed acknowledged that there are some in the coastal Muslim community and the Masjid Musa Mosque who embrace the jihad ideology and support the al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab in Somalia. But he says the killers of the mosque leaders and those behind the unexplained disappearances of several other Muslims on the coast are not lessening that element, they are fueling it.
“The fool who was in charge, he killed Ibrahim thinking it will stop the youth from whatever. Now the youth are looking for guns. Mombasa youths are looking for guns. It was nothing, to knives, and now it’s guns,” said Ahmed, who is free on a nearly $100,000 bond on terror-related charges. He reports to the police twice a week.
Hamoud says his son used to hand out milk and biscuits to some 50 young girls and boys every Friday. The day after his son, Gaddafi Muhamed Hamud, was killed, the youngsters turned up crying and angered.
Hamud’s sister, Mufida Mohamed Hamoud, quoted one of the youngsters as saying: “I wish I had a gun, I would go and kill him.”
Rock-throwing Muslim youths and tear-gas wielding police have faced off in recent weeks, adding to tension felt by a Muslim community that feels it’s being persecuted. For their part, many non-Muslims see the Masjid Musa Mosque as a breeding ground for, if not outright terrorists, then radical views.
Jack Ikoha, who works at one of Mombasa’s upscale resorts, told a reporter: “They are harboring terrorist. That’s an open secret.”
The killings of Rogo, Ismael and others are fueling reprisal attacks, Ahmed said. At least two Christian pastors have been shot and killed around Mombasa in recent weeks. He said if the killers of Rogo and Ismael had been caught, such targeting of Christians wouldn’t be happening.