NAIROBI, Kenya – Armed men pulled two passengers off a bus on the Kenyan coast earlier this month. The body of one man was found two days later with his eyes gorged out, nose chopped off and genitals missing, and a human rights group says Kenyan police executed the man — a terror suspect.
Al-Amin Kimathi of the Muslim Human Rights Forum says the killing of Samir Hashim Khan and the disappearance of Mohammed Kassim-Bekhit, who is blind, is a common strategy employed by Kenyan police when they cannot build a case against suspects.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe dismissed the allegation that police killed Khan as "nonsense." He said police are investigating and those behind the killing will face justice, even if they are found to be police officers.
"Whoever has information should give it ... but not sit there and point fingers making outrageous allegations," Kiraithe said Friday.
Kimathi pointed to the 2007 killings and forced disappearances of at least 500 youth associated with a gang called the Mungiki. The gang, which ran extortion rackets out of Nairobi slums, was known for beheading its victims. Several local and international human rights groups including a government-funded human rights group blamed the killings and abductions on the police.
The police denied responsibility and claimed a leadership struggle in the Mungiki gang led to the deaths. None of those murders has ever been solved.
Kimathi said the bus Khan and Kassim-Bekhit were traveling in was boxed in by cars near a supermarket chain in the coastal town of Mombasa on March 10. Heavily armed men exited the cars and dragged the two men from the bus, according to Kimathi.
Kimathi said police denied holding the two when relatives and friends inquired if they had arrested them. Truck drivers later found Khan's mutilated body dumped in a national park near a highway.
The Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center — which has pledged allegiance to the powerful al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab — said in an Internet posting on Thursday that Kenyan Muslims should rise up in response to the death. It said the death signaled that Kenya has embraced counter-terrorism techniques that would "take its terror war to the doorstep of every Muslim" in Kenya, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al-Shabab militants have vowed to carry out a large scale attack in Nairobi in retaliation for Kenya sending troops into Somalia. The Kenyan government blames al-Shabab militants for several kidnappings on Kenyan soil, including those of four Europeans. The attacks greatly harmed the coastal tourism industry.
Al-Shabab militants bombed crowds watching the World Cup final in Uganda in 2010, killing 76 people.
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 earlier this month donated six cars to the anti-terror police unit. The German government donated nearly a dozen vehicles to the unit last month.
Khan and Kassim-Bekhit had been earlier arrested by police, said Kimathi.
Khan was arrested and charged in a Mombasa court in May 2010 for possession of a firearm without a license. Last year he was charged with being a member of al-Shabab, Kimathi says.
Kassim-Bekhit was arrested earlier this month as he left the main mosque in the city by people suspected to be police who told him to stop his advocacy initiatives, according to Kimathi.
"His abductors said they were members of the Mungiki gang but from the way they were talking he could tell that they were police officers. The problem is that he cannot identify them, where he was taken, or the car he was being driven in," Kimathi said.
Kimathi said the government's counterterrorism campaign was failing because of human rights abuses and the profiling of Muslim youth. He said incidents like Khan's murder will likely remain unresolved and will stir up negative feelings among the Muslim community and draw moderate youth to extremism.
Kimathi, who was detained in Uganda for one year for alleged involvement in the 2010 Kampala bombings, said he believes Kassim-Bekhit could be alive.
Kimathi was arrested in Uganda where he had gone to attend the case of seven Kenyans who had been illegally deported to Uganda to face terrorism charges for the bombing. Ugandan authorities jailed Kimathi and charged him with terrorism, murder and attempted murder. A Ugandan judge later dropped charges.
International rights groups said Kimathi, who had in 2007 exposed the extraordinary rendition of terror suspects to secret jails in Ethiopia where they were being interrogated by Western security agents including the CIA, was detained because he was exposing human rights abuses by the Kenyan and Ugandan governments.