MALINDI, KENYA — Late Sunday, Mohammed Salim Aliyan, an alleged informer to Kenyan government officials, was killed by unknown gunmen as he was about to enter his house in the coastal Kenyan town of Malindi.
As the region's third purported informant to be murdered since December, Aliyan's shooting has further shaken coastal communities affected by an ongoing battle between Kenyan forces and al Shabab militants who claimed responsibility for last year's assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, which left 67 people dead.
Sunday's killing has also put pressure on Malindi police officials to step up the investigation.
“We have some information, which we are trying to follow up, and I hope soon we shall get them," said acting Malindi police commander Charles Rotich. "With other victims I cannot comment, but [with] the latest incident: we might get them.”
The words were hardly reassuring in the wake of other violent killings carried out by suspected al Shabab militants.
Faiz Mohamed Bwarusi, a madrassa tutor and father of two, was found beheaded on December 4. In late January, Ahmed Bakhshwein, who has been described as a top Kenyan spy who routinely fed counterterror information to officials in Nairobi and Washington, was shot dead in the streets of Malindi by gunmen on motorcycle.
African news outlets have described both Bakhshwein and Aliyan as "police reservists" who purportedly monitored youth radicalization activities on behalf of government authorities.
According to "James," a Malindi resident who chose to withhold his identity for fear of retribution, the three victims all knew each other.
Claiming to have known Bakhshwein for more than 25 years, James said he met Aliyan and Faiz after they joined Bakhshwein in gathering information about terrorist activities in the area.
Faiz, James said, knew youths who were recruited into the ranks of al-Shabab and their activities in the coastal region.
In an interview with VOA, Faiz's elder brother Musao Mohamed said his family did not suspect Faiz of involvement with government authorities.
"My brother was a fisherman, an Islamic school teacher for some years, and a land agent," he said. "After the killing, the government said 'he was working with us.'"
However, multiple sources tell VOA that Faiz's occasional work ferrying goods — and sometimes youths — between Somalia and Kenya that led Bakhshwein to seek him out as an possible informant.
"The informers found out Faiz knew bad people and had lots of experience being around them, but [they] did not know he was not one of them," said James.
Regardless of whether Faiz was involved with radicalizing youth on behalf of al Shabab, James fears that the militant's will likely continue targeting anyone suspected of informing Kenyan authorities.
That, he says, will be a big blow in the fight against terrorism unless authorities take measures to protect such people.