News / Africa

Anti-Terror Operations Stoke Religious Tension in Kenya

Roopa Gogineni
In Kenya’s second largest city,  Mombasa, a string of alleged extrajudicial killings and disappearances of suspected terrorists has raised tensions between the police and the Muslim community. The latest alleged target was Omar Faraj, a 40-year-old cashier, who was shot dead at home by police.

At the butcher shop where Omar Faraj worked as a cashier, the till is unmanned. In late October, Kenyan police killed Faraj, accusing him of planning a terrorist attack.

"Many customers have not come back… the customers who do come are very upset. They come here and they cry," said Butcher Joseph Kawemba, who worked with Faraj since 2008.

Early on a Sunday morning, anti-terror police surrounded Faraj’s apartment, firing at the building and lobbing canisters of tear gas inside. After the raid, neighbors found Faraj’s dead body on top of his wife Rahma, who had passed out.

Police said they recovered grenades and ammunition from the apartment.

At the Memon Villa mosque where Faraj often led prayers, a friend who declined to be on camera, believes the police made a mistake.

"They claimed he was found with grenades, and yet we know he doesn't even own a knife to slaughter a chicken. He wouldn't even know where to buy a grenade. These things, they surprise us. Even now," said the friend.

Kenya receives U.S. funding and intelligence support for its anti-terror efforts.  In October, it passed new anti-terrorism legislation, giving authorities more leeway to root out suspected terror cells.

"Whenever we come across anybody who may be associating with al-Shabab or any other militia groups like al-Qaida or other terrorist groups, then we are able to deal with this particular person quite rightly to distort their operations and disorientate them completely so that they do not create any kind of crimes within the region," said Aggrey Adoli, the Coast province police chief.

In August, rioters set fire to cars after Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo, with alleged ties to al-Shabab, was shot dead.

Though the police deny responsibility, human rights groups believe Rogo’s was one of several extrajudicial killings and abductions carried out by Kenyan security forces.

Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights, or MUHURI, is now investigating Faraj’s death.

"The responsibility to investigate, it is the police, it is not a human rights organization or anyone else. They are mandated by law. Going to a place at 2 o'clock and terrorizing the whole neighborhood, it is not fair, really," explains MUHURI's director, Khelef Khalifa.

Khalifa claims the passing of the anti-terror bill has allowed the police, whom he says have a long history of committing extrajudicial killings, to act with impunity.

"Now we ask ourselves, why did they go and shoot somebody if that person was not hiding? They could have easily gone to his place of work and arrested him," he said.

In this city, many now live in fear of the police.

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