‘Living on borrowed time,’ said Kenyan Muslim
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The charismatic Muslim leader on Kenya’s coast was certain he would be killed.
Abubakar Shariff Ahmed — known as Makaburi — told an Associated Press reporter in October that “I’m living on borrowed time.” He said this after two other Muslim leaders of a mosque that Makaburi was associated with had been killed by unidentified gunmen.
On Tuesday night, Makaburi’s premonition came true. He died the same way as the other two: shot dead by unidentified gunmen on the streets of Mombasa. Another man with Makaburi was also killed.
Human rights activists’ suspect the government — rattled by the presence of Islamic extremists in Kenya and by the attack last year by al-Shabab on a Nairobi mall — is behind the killings of the Muslim leaders.
The U.S. Embassy on Wednesday deplored the recent violence in Kenya, including Makaburi’s murder. The U.S. called for a full investigation and encouraged dialogue between the government and religious leaders “to address the underlying causes of tensions and to help counter the danger presented by violent extremist groups.”
In the October interview, Makaburi, his goatee dyed orange, sat under a cloth bearing a hand-painted sword and religious text in Arabic. He railed against the killings of radical Muslim leaders, saying that while Kenyan security forces might think that killing them helps snuff out radical Islam, it actually increases the problem.
“Mombasa youths are looking for guns. It was nothing, then knives, and now it’s guns,” said Makaburi, who spoke fluent Arabic after living for almost 20 years in the United Arab Emirates.
He said that whoever had ordered his two friends killed would also order his death. Police and the government have denied involvement but have made no arrests in the deaths.
On Tuesday, in the humid Mombasa evening, Makaburi left a courtroom where he had assisted more than two dozen youths accused of being part of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-affiliated insurgent group in Somalia. He and a companion were walking to a nearby mosque when a sedan approached around 6 p.m., said a witness to the attack, Mohamed Ali.
Two gunmen in the car opened fire. Around 20 shots rang out, Ali said. Makaburi, wearing a white checked robe, fell to the sidewalk. His companion also fell, a white cap remaining on his head. Police came and slid Makaburi’s body into the back of a police pickup truck.
Hussien Khalid, an official with a human rights group in Mombasa called Haki Africa, said government agents are prime suspects in such killings. He said 20 Muslims have been killed in the city the last four months.
“We know the government is targeting us now,” he said. “We know our lives are in danger because we are speaking up against the atrocities they are committing to people at the coast, so they see us as the enemy to their cause, which is fraught with human rights violations.”
The U.S. State Department’s report on Kenya’s human rights record published earlier this year found that Kenyan security forces were responsible for the most serious human rights abuses in 2013, “including unlawful killings, forced disappearances, torture, and use of excessive force.”
Violent attacks have been increasing in Kenya. On Monday three blasts detonated in central Nairobi, killing six people Police said Wednesday they have since arrested 900 people from the Somali enclave of Nairobi.
Makaburi was intelligent, charismatic and engaging — traits that made him an obvious candidate to be a community leader — but he also held radical views that repelled many.
Most notably, he said the four al-Shabab gunmen who slaughtered at least 67 people in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September “had every right to do what they did.”
“Islamically it is justified. We cannot allow foreign forces entering Muslim countries, killing innocent Muslim people and then it go unpunished,” he said, citing Kenya’s military presence in Somalia and the need for an “eye for an eye” defense of Muslim life.
A July report from the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea accused Makaburi of maintaining ties to a Kenyan terror group known as al-Hijra and said he wanted terrorist attacks to be deadlier.
In the AP interview, Makaburi said he was bound by the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to avenge the killings of his two friends, Sheik Aboud Rogo and Sheik Ibrahim Ismael. “We will kill the people who killed them,” Makaburi said.
He argued that Muslims in Kenya have no other recourse.
“There is no law here. We are in the jungle,” he said. “We cannot see our fellow Muslims being slaughtered in front of their children and wives and not do anything. We are the ones being terrorized here.”
Associated Press writer Tom Odula contributed to this report.