It has been nearly two weeks since the bloody attacks on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, where militants aligned with Somali Islamists, al-Shabaab, emptied guns and tossed grenades on unsuspecting shoppers. Last night, in Mombasa, a car lay on the side of a road, riddled with bullets and with four bloody corpses inside.
I first met Sheikh Ibrahim Ishmael two days before his killing, in the office of Abubaker Shariff Ahmed—nick-named "Makaburi"—a well-spoken, if not radical, debater who is on a UN Security Council list banning him from travel outside of Kenya. The UN claims he is "a leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for violent militant activity in Somalia".
The Sheikh had been preparing a sermon, and had come to Makaburi's office to exchange some books, the title of one questioned whether it was acceptable to kill Muslims who had lost their way, though he described different books when later asked about them.
The next day, we sat in an Islamic bookshop on the outskirts of Mombasa. Dressed in a long white dishdasha, he told me that "the way you live, the way you talk, the way you behave, must be influenced by the Holy Qur'an", a rule followed by millions of Muslims across the world, and in itself, far from extreme. Yet Sheikh Ibrahim was infamous for his more radical views, ones that he inherited from his predecessor, Aboud Rogo, who was gunned down in August 2012 by, many believe, the Kenyan Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU). Outside the Masjid Musa mosque, where Sheikh Ibrahim preached every Sunday and Thursday, DVDs were on sale with excerpts from his sermons, dubbing Ibrahim "Rogo Junior".
Following Rogo's death last year, youths rioted across the city, and burned a number of churches in retaliation. "Some Christians hate Muslims," Ibrahim said, calmly. "Most of these arrests of Muslims by government agents are those whose plans were hatched in churches." Moments earlier, he had said "I support the burning of churches; even if those inside die."
"Those with hard stances are those with little knowledge of Islam" said Sheikh Mohammed Idriss, imam of the Sakina mosque just around the corner from the Musa. He describes a big division between imams in the city, between the majority who preach peace and strive for dialogue, and the radical minority who call for jihad. And attempts to speak to the latter have fallen on deaf ears. They are "causing trouble" for the whole community, Sheikh Mohamed says, but admits that in the community "it is true attitudes are changing." Largely influenced by "what is happening in Iraq, Palestine, Somalia," he says, "people see life differently."
Just hours after I spoke to Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Ibrahim's white robes were soaked with blood as he slumped in the back of a black Toyota, along with three of his associates. The execution had taken place on the same stretch of road as that of Aboud Rogo a year earlier, and in the same style. The following day, Mombasa would see more riots, akin to those of August 2012 but much less fierce. But again, the Salvation Army church neighbouring the Masjid Musa, would be burned.
Stood outside the church, as timber still smouldered, I asked a policeman what all of this was about. He linked it to the killing of Sheikh Ibrahim. "Who killed him?" I asked. It was the ATPU, he said, "but no-one will say that."
If he is correct, then the unit charged with eliminating terrorism in Kenya is radicalising more people, creating a growing base of disenchanted youth who feel increasingly marginalised. "We feel the counter-terrorism in Kenya is terrorism itself - the ATPU kill with impunity" a human-rights activist told me two days before Ibrahim's slaying. Stood beside the bullet ridden car, Makaburi claimed that the Kenyan government was killing Muslims, and even that they wanted to "wipe out" Muslims. Something, he claims, would "recruit" people further. Irrespective of whether this policy exists, the string of killings in Mombasa will provide more recruits.
Just hours before the shooting, I sat with two youths outside the Masjid Musa. "Jihad is our right" one told me, claiming to have fought in Afghanistan and Somalia, in between accusations of me being "MI6". Paranoia was rife. Throughout interviews with disenfranchised Muslims in Mombasa, the common theme that occurred was of double standards that alienated them. "When the police kill us, it is not terror. But when we kill people, we are called 'terrorists'" the young jihadi said.