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Youth attack churches as Mombasa erupts

By - | Published Tue, August 28th 2012 at 00:00, Updated August 27th 2012 at 21:42 GMT +3
Rioters destroyed property in a church on Monday. [Photo: Maarufu Mohamed /Standard]

By Philip Mwakio

The antennas of Kenya’s top security organs are on high alert after controversial Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo was gunned down in a hail of bullets on Monday.

Mobs protesting Rogo’s death had killed at least one man by the time of going to press as violence rocked the coastal city of Mombasa. Church clerics were due to release a statement condemning the attack on the Salvation Army, Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG and Neno Evangelism churches and calling for calm.

Rogo, considered a key terror suspect by the both the Kenya and US Governments, died when assailants in a saloon car on the Mombasa-Malindi highway sprayed the white Nissan van he and his family were travelling in with bullets.

The killing of the controversial cleric came on the heels of the mysterious slaying of another terror suspect, Sheikh Amir Khan early this year.

Rogo’s wife, Haniya Said Sagaar, was badly injured in the left leg from the shooting, but his father-in-law Mzee Abdalah Ali and a female relative escaped unhurt, together with a young girl, aged six years, believed to be Sheikh Rogo’s daughter.

His killing sparked tensions that saw angry Muslim youth go on the rampage, setting fire to a church and van in the process.

Ironically, the violence in Mombasa exploded even as President Mwai Kibaki led the nation in a rallying call for peace on the anniversary of the day he promulgated the new Constitution.

Under threat

The two events, separated by 480 kilometres, were linked by the call for peace and national reconciliation ahead of the General Election, and with Kenyan troops fighting Al Shabaab militants in Somalia as part of the Africa Mission force.

As news of Sheikh Rogo’s death spread, Mombasa town and its environs became no-go zones, enveloped in an orgy of rioting and arson by militant supporters of the slain cleric and terror suspect.

Muslim leaders demanded answers for the killing, but condemned the mayhem that followed Rogo’s murder. Kenya Muslims National Advisory Council chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao said Islamic preachers are now living in fear following the killing and the slaying of Sheikh Amir Khan early this year.

Ngao also urged the Government to install security cameras to monitor such crimes in major towns in the country. “The Government should explain these killings because Islamic preachers are worried for their safety,” Ngao said.

As they snatched Rogo’s corpse from the police and prepared to bury him, his supporters declared him a martyr and vowed to avenge his killing before his family. By the time we went to press violence had spread across the island and acquired a sectarian dimension with the torching of a Salvation Army church in Majengo and destruction of the Jesus Celebration Church in Tudor.

Two unidentified men lay dead, including one with a gaping wound from an apparent machete attack at Ziwani on the island. Our reporters confirmed seeing a lifeless body sprawled in the streets of Ziwani for about an hour before it was collected by police and taken to the mortuary.

Sheikh Rogo who has faced legal problems with Kenyan authorities for terrorist attacks on Israeli properties in Mombasa and recent grenade attacks on the Kenyan coast has broad support among militants and religious extremists.

According to Benedict Kigen the DCIO for Kisauni, which covers Pirates Club near Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach in Bamburi, police discovered Rogo had been killed in a hail of bullets when responding to a burst of gunfire.

According to Kigen 22 bullets were pumped into the side of the vehicle Sheikh Rogo was driving at close range. “We were responding to gunshots we heard at the police station and when we arrived at the scene we found the vehicle had veered off the road and two occupants had gunshot injuries,” said Kigen.

“On interviewing a woman who was injured in the vehicle we realised the occupants were shot by people in another saloon car which had been trailing them. The woman revealed to us that the occupant who had been killed was Sheikh Aboud Rogo,” Kigen added.

Looting spree

As regular police and paramilitary General Service Unit officers locked down the town to clear the streets, traders closed their shops as looting erupting around Masjid Musa, the mosque where Sheikh Rogo’s corpse lay before burial.

Two police vehicles were torched near the mosque and the militants firebombed a wines shop along Kenyatta Avenue on the island.

By the time of going to the press violence was growing in shanty towns like Majengo and Mwembe Tayari on the island, with further reports that trouble had erupted in Kisauni.

As his supporters buried Sheikh Rogo at the Ziwani Muslim Cemetery, Mombasa was a town with smouldering bonfires as violence spread amid arson in Bamburi and Bombolulu.

Meanwhile the circumstances of Sheikh Rogo’s killing remained unclear with police refusing to comment farther. A senior officer at the scene showed The Standard spent cartridges collected on the site and suggested they do not belong to any gun supplied to Kenya’s regular forces.

Conspiracy theories erupted with mourners accusing the police of executing the cleric who claimed early this month in court that unknown people in cars had trailed him.

The unsolved kidnapping of two men in Tudor, Mombasa preceded Rogo’s killing, an incident that police suspect could be linked to his death.

Among the first people on the scene was Mohamed Sheikh Amin a former soldier facing terror charges alongside Sheikh Rogo.

“I know the police has killed Sheikh Rogo so there is no need of leaving the police go with the body,” said Mohamed as led supporters in opposing the transfer of the corpse to police custody. Some eyewitnesses claimed they spotted a saloon vehicle block Rogo’s van that was headed to Mombasa from Kilifi followed by a burst of gunfire on the busy Mombasa-Malindi highway.

Mzee Ali, Rogo’s father-in-law was drenched in blood and was assisted into a vehicle while Rogo’s wife was rushed into an ambulance.

— Report by Willis Oketch, Patrick Beja and Ernest Ndunda.