The drive-by shooting of Muslim cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Ishmael on Thursday night sparked off riots in Mombasa yesterday where four people died and scores were injured.
Sheikh Ismael was viewed as the successor to Aboud Rogo Mohammed, the controversial preacher linked to al Shabaab terrorists, who was assassinated in August 2012 in a similar drive-by shooting.
Rogo's killing also sparked off rioting in Mombasa amid claims by religious leaders that he had been 'executed' by the police.
On Thursday night, Ismael was on his way to Mtwapa from the Masjid Musa mosque with Gadaffi Mohammed aka Shebe, Omar Aburumesia, Issa Abdallah, and Salim Aboud. Around 10pm a black car screeched to a halt next to them on Mombasa Malindi highway next to Bamburi butterfly pavilion. The driver and three other occupants sprayed them with bullets.
Only Salim Aboud survived. He had just a bullet graze to his chin and thinks he survived because he was seated on the left hand side of the vehicle.
"I heard them get out of the car and walk back to the car to check if we are all dead. I heard them saying ‘we have finished them off’ before they drove off,” said Salim. He said he could not see their faces because it was dark.
Gaddafi, the owner of the vehicle, ran a furniture store in Mvita. The driver Issa was his brother in law.
The National Intelligence Service has accused Sheikh Ibrahim Ismael and another cleric from Eastleigh of radicalizing Muslim youth in secondary schools in Mombasa and Nairobi and recruiting for al Shabaab.
Yesterday Sheikh Abubakar Shariff alias Makaburi, another former Rogo ally, blamed the killings on the police.
Last week, Gadaffi told him that he and others were being followed and expressed fears that they did not have long to live.
"The police are killing people while saying it is a war against terrorism. This is a war against Islam," said Makaburi who has been accused by the UN Security Council for being "a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for violent militant activity in Somalia."
Makaburi claimed an Israeli trained police unit was behind the killings.
“Unfortunately when (former Prime Minister) Raila went to Israel he sought help from the Israeli government to deal with terror suspects. This is the result,” said Makaburi.
Makaburi claimed the "death squad" financed by the UK and US governments was responsible for Rogo's murder last year.
"The government is killing its own people. If we take up arms, we are terrorists. If we don’t, we are killed,” said Makaburi.
A police task force last year investigated Rogo's death but was unable to identify possible culprits.
Yesterday, the police denied any involvement.
“The police have nothing to do with the shooting. That's not how we operate," said Mombasa county police chief Robert Kitur.
Like Rogo, the four men were buried at Kiziwi cemetery before the 4am prayers (swalatul alfajir) under Islamic rites, according to human rights activist Khalid Hussein. They were buried in their bloody kanzus as a sign that they were Shahids (martyrs).
“Such actions reinforce the Muslim youth suspicion that they are being targeted and they will definitely react,” said a family member soon after the pre-dawn funeral ceremony.
Maitha Ronald, a beach operator, said heavily armed police from Bamburi and Mtwapa arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting along with other unmarked vehicle. They kept the gathering crowd away at a distance from the vehicle.
“The policemen had surrounded the vehicle and were picking some things from the ground around the scene. They were too many officers. I overheard one of the policemen say the three were the Westgate Mall terror suspects,” he said.
A motorist said the assailants were driving a Toyota Mark X but was unwilling to share the information with the authorities for fear of being considered a suspect.
Less than four hours later, heavily armed riot policemen were deployed in Majengo and Kisauni before the afternoon prayers to deal with anticipated riots.
Businesses and shops in Mombasa were closed as people stayed clear of the streets. At least 24 youth were arrested for lighting bonfires and barricading roads.
At least one man was shot and died while undergoing treatment at the Coast General Hospital. Three people were stabbed to death.
“These people have stabbed me. I was running for safety when I met with a group of youths. I am in pain,” said a middle-aged man who had been stabbed three times and who was quickly rushed to hospital in a tuk-tuk.
The Salvation Army Church, less than 200 meters from the Masjid Musa mosque, was set on fire but the county and KPA fire brigades managed to quickly contain the fire and stop it spreading to adjacent homes. The church was also damaged last year during the Rogo riots.