NAIROBI, Kenya – Gunmen in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa shot dead a Muslim cleric accused by Washington and the United Nations of supporting Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, sparking rioting by youths in which one person died and at least one police car was burned.
The killing on Monday of Aboud Rogo fits into a pattern of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances of suspected terrorists that is allegedly being orchestrated by Kenyan police, say Kenyan human rights groups.
Rogo was shot dead as he drove with his family in Mombasa, Rogo's lawyer, Mbugua Mureithi, told The Associated Press. Rogo's wife was wounded in the leg, said Rogo's father who was also in the car along with Rogo's 5-year-old daughter. He said he and the girl weren't injured.
Rogo's killing quickly sparked off protests by hundreds of Muslim youths who went on the rampage on the streets of Mombasa, as his body was being taken for burial, in line with Muslim customs of burying the dead on the same day they died.
The Muslim Human Rights Forum condemned Rogo's murder, calling it an "extrajudicial killing" and calling for an "an end to targeted killings and enforced disappearances of terrorism suspects."
MHRF Chairman Al-Amin Kimathi said that last month Rogo and Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, who were both suspects in a terror-related case, survived an abduction attempt by gunmen they claimed were state agents who accosted them as they arrived in the capital city.
The abduction attempt was foiled by members of the public who came to their aid when the two shouted for help as they resisted the heavily armed men, Kimathi said.
Fearing for their lives they sought an adjournment and a transfer of the case from the Nairobi courts to another town, he said.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe and his deputy Charles Owino did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment about allegations that police were involved in the killings.
Earlier this year, Rogo was charged with possession of a cache of guns, ammunition and detonators. Rogo also faced charges of membership in al-Shabab, the Somali rebel group that is linked to Al Qaeda and which has been outlawed in Kenya.
Police charged that Rogo was part of terror cell, affiliated to al-Shabab that was planning to bomb Kenyan targets over Christmas. Other members of cell include Briton Samantha Lewthwaite, who police say is on the run.
Lewthwaite is the widow of Jermaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers who killed 52 commuters in multiple bombings of London's transport system on July 7, 2005.
The other is Briton Jermaine Grant, sentenced to three years in prison for immigration offenses and lying to a government official about his identity. Grant is also charged with conspiring to commit a felony and possessing explosive materials.
Al-Shabab has vowed to carry out a large-scale attack in Nairobi in retaliation for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to fight the Islamist insurgents. The Kenyan government blames al-Shabab for several kidnappings on Kenyan soil, including those of four Europeans. The kidnappings greatly harmed the Kenya's coastal tourism industry.
Rogo was acquitted in 2005 of murder charges for the 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel which killed more than 12 people.
He is the fifth alleged Muslim extremist who has been killed or who disappeared in the last four months, according to human rights campaigners. One corpse was found mutilated and the other four men vanished.
Hassan Omar Hassan, a former deputy head of the government-funded, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said police had used the strategy of eliminating suspects before.
In a 2008 report, the commission said Kenyan police were to blame for the executions and disappearances of more than 500 people who were suspected of being members of a notorious gang during a crackdown on the gang from June-October 2007.
After the report's release, a police driver who told the commission he witnessed more than 50 executions by police was killed while in witness protection.
Philip Alston, then the U.N.'s expert on extrajudicial killings, investigated the deaths and disappearance of gang members and concluded in 2009 that Kenyan police were running death squads. A week after Alston's report, two rights activist who spoke to Alston were shot dead. Their car was raked with automatic gunfire on a leafy suburban street a minute's walk from the heavily guarded presidential residence.
Hassan said that the extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances of terror suspects would further radicalize Muslim youth.
"The only way to solve issues is through the rule of law. Apply it objectively," Hassan said.
Kenya police are under pressure to prevent an al-Shabab attack. Already several grenade attacks that police blamed on al-Shabab have been carried out inside Kenya.
Kenya's police force, however, is constrained from carrying out its work because of poor pay, which has led to corruption, and because of a lack of facilities. Few police here have cars, for instance, and those who do are given little fuel.
Britain in April donated six cars to the anti-terror police unit. The German government donated nearly a dozen vehicles to the unit the previous month.