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Human Rights Groups Decry Kenyan Suspect's Killing


Human rights groups are blasting Kenyan police for killing one of Kenya's most wanted criminals, saying that the suspect should have been taken into custody and tried rather than shot. As Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi, there are conflicting reports of whether or not the suspect was armed when he was killed.

Simon Matheri, described by police as "public enemy number one," was accused of killing more than 10 people, most recently two American missionaries and a prominent Kenyan AIDS scientist during carjackings.

Police killed Matheri in the early hours of Tuesday after surrounding his home in a town near the capital.

The chief counsel of the public interest group The Chambers of Justice, Ababu Namwamba, tells VOA the police's action violated the rule of law.

He said, "If we are a society that is anchored on the rule of law, and where justice is a fundamental public philosophy, then we must seek to apprehend criminals and arraign them in courts of law instead of resorting to summary executions like we have been witnessing in the recent past."

Namwamba says the law allows for police to disarm suspects with guns by shooting them in the arm or leg rather than outright killing them.

Police spokesman Gideon Kibunjah tells VOA that, in general, the police try not to kill suspected criminals.

"Our aim is to shoot to disable," he said. "But when somebody's shooting at you, there is really not much time to decide how you are going to aim for the legs or something else."

"It is a matter of life and death, and we have lost quite a number of officers to gangsters, so sometimes we really cannot take chances with them. If somebody wants to fight, then they should be prepared for the consequences of that," he added.

There are conflicting reports of how 30-year-old Matheri died.

Police spokesman Kibunjah says Matheri was holding an AK-47 assault rifle when he stepped out of his house, but would not say if Matheri attempted to shoot police with the gun.

But Matheri's wife was quoted as saying her husband walked out of their house, unarmed, holding his hands on his head. She said police interrogated her husband and another accomplice for about 30 minutes before shooting them.

Kenya's police have repeatedly been criticized for shooting first and asking questions later.

A study conducted last year by former chief government pathologist Kirasi Olumbe found that, over a seven-year period, 70 percent of gunshot deaths were a result of police bullets. The study did not say if the gunshot victims were criminals.

As the public becomes more worried about what appears to be an increase in violent crime, police have become more trigger-happy.

According to a report last month in one of Kenya's daily newspapers, victims of police shootings have increased from about 40 to 60 each month. On one day last month, police killed 13 people suspected of committing various crimes.