Al Jazeera, November 2014
Mombasa, Kenya – It was 4am when Nadiya Ahmed awoke to a loud bang in her house in Floringi village near the southern Kenyan city of Mombasa. Ahmed cautiously walked into the living room to find heavily armed police officers dressed in military fatigues and bulletproof vests.
“They were so many of them. They looked as if they were going to war,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera. The police ransacked the house, turning mattresses upside down, and taking photographs of her. A few minutes later, she heard her son, Idris Mohamed, 26, call out to the officers from inside the house.
“I have surrendered,” Ahmed recalled him saying. She said the police then stripped her son naked, handcuffed Idris, and shot him three times, killing him instantly.
A police post-mortem statement said the officers were given a tip-off about Idris “who was later confirmed to have been a wanted criminal” with a warrant out for his arrest.
But the original name on the postmortem form and criminal case number belong to his brother, Ismael Mohamed. The name had been crossed out and replaced with “Idris Mohamed”.
“The police postmortem report seems like it was compiled in advance. The police had planned to kill his brother, Ismael Mohamed,” said Fahad Changi from the NGO group Muslims for Human Rights.
Idris Mohamed had no prior criminal record. Ismael Mohamed had been charged with assault, was released on bail, but failed to appear in court. Ahmed said she doesn’t know his whereabouts.
Robert Kitur, the Mombasa county police commander, told Al Jazeera after the incident that both brothers were involved in “terrorism” and police were continuing to hunt for Ismael.
When asked by Al Jazeera why the police killed Idris Mohamed, Kitur said: “We cannot call that one extrajudicial. We had information about him.” He refused to discuss further details about the shooting.
Ahmed, however, insisted her son was innocent. “My son Idris was not a terrorist. And if he was guilty of anything, he had surrendered and they had handcuffed him. So why did they have to kill him?”
The September 14 killing of Idris Mohamed was the latest in a series of police killings of suspects in Kenya’s main port of Mombasa, a city that has seen a spate of attacks in recent years, some claimed by the armed Somalia-based group al-Shabab.
Public outrage erupted in August after Kwekwe Mwandaza, 14, was shot dead by police who raided her home in Kwale district looking to arrest the girl’s uncle, a murder suspect. Two police officers said the teenager attacked them with a machete. They were arrested and later released on bail.
Investigations by human rights organisations suggest extrajudicial killings are on the rise across the country.
A report released last month by the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) found that 176 extrajudicial killings took place between January and September 2014.
The IMLU reported 143 extrajudicial killings in Kenya in 2013. According to IMLU, these figures do not include the killing of terrorism suspects. Seven people were reportedly killed extrajudicially in Mombasa and Meru, it said.
Hussein Khalid, executive director of activist group Haki Africa, said the death toll for Mombasa is likely much higher.
“We have documented at least 30 fatal shootings and disappearances by the police that are terror related between January and October 2014. There are definitely more than 30 if you include non-terror related cases,” he said.
The police crackdown is believed by many to be carried out by the Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU), which receives funding and training from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Created in 2003 in response to the 1998 attack on the US Embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people, the covert unit’s operations have increased after Kenya’s invasion of Somalia in 2011 in response to al-Shabab’s activities.
Stringent anti-terrorism legislation was passed in 2012 after a series of attacks in Kenya which were claimed by al-Shabab. The most prominent assault to date in Kenya was the siege of Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September 2013 that resulted in 67 deaths.
An investigation by New York-based Human Rights Watch between November 2013 and June 2014 documented “at least 10 cases of killings, 10 cases of enforced disappearances, and 11 cases of mistreatment or harassment of terrorism suspects, in which there is strong evidence of the counterterrorism unit’s involvement”.
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said police impunity in Kenya is responsible for the high numbers of extrajudicial killings by the ATPU, as well as other police squads.
“This goes back decades and the pattern that we see – whether it’s the military in Mount Elgon, or in Mandera, or police in Nairobi or Kisumu during the post-election violence, or the ATPU – is of security forces that use lethal force at the drop of a hat with no kind of process of accountability,” Lefkow told Al Jazeera.
However, the police commander Kitur said he was unaware of instances where police officers executed suspects outside of the law.
“How can there be extrajudicial killings? Have they proven it?” he told Al Jazeera. “We want proven facts, not rumours and lies.”
Kitur added police efforts in tracking down criminal suspects is dangerous work. “We are empowered by the law to use firearms to disable and arrest [a suspect]. But if my own life is at risk, and that person has got a rifle like me, what do you expect? If you don’t do something, you lose your life.”
In the case of Idris Mohamed, gunned down in his own home, police said he threw a grenade that failed to explode. His mother Nadiya Ahmed, however, said there was no grenade. “They asked me to sign a paper to say my son had a grenade, but I refused,” she said.
Lack of accountability
Not helping the situation, critics say, a recent amendment to the 2011 National Police Service Act allows officers to use firearms to not only defend against “imminent threat of life or serious injury”, but also now to protect private property.
Human rights activists say this will only lead to more bloodshed.
“These changes give the police even more latitude, it’s a step backward for us,” said Joseph Muthuri from the Independent Medico-Legal Unit. “It’s also against international human rights norms.”
A new constitution in 2010 sought, among other things, to reform the police service and establish new mechanisms of accountability, but there have only been a few cases where officers have been taken to court over alleged abuses of power.
“The judiciary is lacking. We need one or two successful cases to get the police convicted of killings or torture. This will send a message that you cannot run away from the law,” said Hussein Khalid from NGO Haki Africa.
“As for the ATPU [Anti-Terror Police Unit], just disband the whole thing. Besides the killing and atrocities, we don’t see the impact of their work.”