Elham Asaad Buaras
A vocal opponent of militant Somali group al-Shabaab was shot and killed in Kenya on June 10. Police and witnesses say Chair of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, Sheikh Mohamed Idris, was fatally shot in the stomach by a gunmen on motorcycles as he left his house to attend morning prayers at a nearby mosque.
The 65-year-old scholar was at the forefront of the fight against radicalisation of Muslim youths in the Kenya’s coastal region and radical youths had accused him of working with the state to suppress them.
Three other Muslim scholars, accused of having links to al-Shabaab and their supporters were killed in 2012 in what human right groups in Kenya are calling Government extrajudicial killings – charges the authorities denied.
Idris was Chair of Masjid Sakina in Majengo until December last year, following a takeover of the mosque by “radicalised youths.”
In late November, a mob of youth stormed Masjid Sakina, forced out Idris and led Friday prayers themselves, before dispersing when police arrived. Days later, trustees of the mosque removed Idris from his post, replacing him with a “neutral imam”.
“There was a power struggle at Sakina mosque – where he was supposed to be installed as a sheikh – between his supporters and another radical group opposed to him,” explained Mombasa’s police chief Robert Kitur.
Following the incident, Idris kept a low profile at the behest of his family. His son Hassan Mohamed Idris said, “Thank God he agreed to our request and went to Likoni to stay in his house and his farm. According to our younger brother he [had] seen unknown people with vehicles driving near the farm that we do not know.”
Unlike the previous killings, Idris’ death attracted immediate statements of condolence from top political leaders.
President Uhuru Kenyatta described Idris as a committed religious leader “who stood for what was good for the country.” Kenyatta extended condolences to Kenya’s Muslim community and said the Government would do all it can to find the killer.
“Sheikh Idris was at the forefront in the fight against the radicalization of the youth and therefore his death is a big blow to the country’s efforts to stop religious extremism,” Kenyatta said.
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, said he was “greatly saddened” by the killing and that he would go to Idris’ burial.
Majority Leader and Garissa Township Parliamentarian Aden Duale said via Twitter, “We condemn the heinous killing of Sheikh Idris […] His killers must be found.”
The British High Commission in Kenya has also issued a statement, condemning the killing as did the US ambassador Robert Godec who called for “calm and restraint”.