Detectives have zeroed in on a Mombasa tycoon as the person who ordered last week slaying of moderate cleric and chairperson of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (ICIPK) Sheikh Mohamed Idris, The People Sunday has learnt. At the same time, investigators are pursuing clues that the businessman, who has since gone underground, has lined up a number of other moderate clerics he wants eliminated together with key security men at the Coast who have declared war on suspected financiers of Muslim radicals and terrorists.
The run-away tycoon allegedly organised and funded vicious youth to eject Sheikh Idris from Mombasa’s Masjid Sakina Mosque last year. Sheikh Idris had been the imam at Detectives have zeroed in on a Mombasa tycoon as the person who ordered last week slaying of moderate cleric and chairperson of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (ICIPK) Sheikh Mohamed Idris, The People Sunday has learnt. At the same time, investigators are pursuing clues that the businessman, who has since gone underground, has lined up a number of other moderate clerics he wants eliminated together with key security men at the Coast who have declared war on suspected financiers of Muslim radicals and terrorists.
The run-away tycoon allegedly organised and funded vicious youth to eject Sheikh Idris from Mombasa’s Masjid Sakina Mosque last year. Sheikh Idris had been the imam at the mosque for 28 years. He was forced to flee to Likoni area where assassins caught up with him on Tuesday last week as he walked to a nearby mosque for prayers. Three people have since been questioned by police and may have provided useful tips upon which detectives are making a follow-up and subsequent manhunt for the suspect tycoon.
The businessman has, on several occasions, been arrested and questioned in relation to the financing of terror activities. A detective, who talked to The People Sunday in confidence, says they have reliable information the tycoon is the person who hired the hit-men who killed Sheikh Idris. “We are closing in on him and his accomplices wherever they are,” says the detective. The businessman is on the list of 15 wealthy individuals in Mombasa whose bank accounts were being monitored for money laundering and financing of terrorism and youth radicalisation in the country.
The tycoon is alleged to have been among those funding the late Sheikh Aboud Rogo and Sheikh Shariff Abubakar (alias Makaburi) jihadist activities. The two, who were linked to activities of the terrorist group, Al Shabaab, have since been killed by unknown assailants. Police suspect Sheikh Idris could have been targeted to revenge the killings of Makaburi and Rogo. Said a police source: “We are pursuing the thread that runs through radicalisation of youths; the criminal activities by some elements at the Masjid Musa and Masjid Sakina mosques, and now the killing of Sheikh Idris, who was vehemently opposed to religious fundamentalism.”
The slain cleric had been urging authorities to crackdown on militant elements in mosques within Mombasa which led to him being branded “traitor” by the radical elements. He was ejected from the Masjid Sakina Mosque last year by a group of radical youths acting on instructions from Makaburi and Rogo. The run-away businessman was the suspected hidden hand in the saga. Since the eviction, Sheikh Idris had been living in fear, dodging his tormentors who he knew would have wanted him dead sooner than later.
He had hired some youths to accompany him wherever he went as well as made formal request to the police to be offered protection. His killing is a big blow to community policing and may scare away other level-headed Muslim leaders who would be willing to work with the government in the fight against fundamentalism and terrorism. “We are all scared because of this killing. We do not know who is next. They have threatened to kill us as well,” a terrified assistant treasurer at the Council of Imams and Preachers, Hassan Suleiman, told The People Sunday.
Sheikh Idris was at the forefront in the fight against radicalisation of Muslim youth and was seen as the voice of reason among Muslim clerics. On the day he was killed, President Uhuru Kenyatta mourned him “as a voice of reason opposed to those who want to hide behind religion to harm others.” The President, who was addressing a church-sponsored national reconciliation conference, requested his audience to observe a moment of silence in honour of the slain preacher. Sheikh Idris was also mourned by the embassies of the UK and the US who described him as a useful ally in the fight against terrorism.
Since the emergence of Muslim fundamentalism at the Kenyan coast two decades ago, Sheikh Idris had fought unending battles with extremists wishing to take control of leading mosques in Mombasa. One of his earlier sworn foes was the now disgraced Sheikh Khalid Balala, the founder of the unregistered Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK). Because of his efforts, most firebrand clerics involved in the IPK activities have since moderated and joined the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), an organ opposed to religious fundamentalism. A special team of investigators from Nairobi has since been deployed at the Coast to hunt down Sheikh Idris’ killers as well as establish their motive(s) and accomplices.
The bitter fruits of a quarter century of rapid radicalisation…
The seeds of radical Islam that has become Kenya’s biggest security threat were planted ages ago. But the first time that this brand of Islam came to public limelight was in the 1990s when radical preacher, Sheikh Khalid Balala started his radicalisation activities in the country. Born in 1958, Balala was a moderate Sunni Muslim until at the age of 27 when he joined Medina University, in Saudi Arabia, to study Islam. Medina University is not an ordinary institution. It is the melting pot for radical Islam brand also known as wahhabism and teaches its Islam students to pioneer Jihadist crusades.
When he returned to Kenya, Balala teamed up with Mombasa tycoons to form the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK). With support from the government of Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Balala began his campaign of calling Muslims to arm themselves in the fight against perceived injustices against Muslims. But the government quickly silenced him by forcing him into exile. Within IPK, the Coast tycoons, concerned that Balala was moving too fast in the campaign and thus exposing party plans prematurely. The tycoons threw him out.
Crippled, Balala now lives an ordinary life and rarely gets opportunities to preach. But his earlier message has found followers, some who have proven to be more lethal and shrewd. Although some of the latter day propagators of radical Islam such as Aboud Rogo and Abubaker Shariff (Makaburi) have died under controversial circumstances, their impact on the spread of terror in Kenya is still felt today. They include Fazul Mohamed, who held the citizenship of both Kenya and Comoros.
Fazul was the practical radical Islamist who masterminded the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. There is Samantha Lewthwaite, an English underground operative also referred to as the ‘White Widow’, and who is named as the brains behind many terror attacks in East Africa. Ahmad Iman Ali, the head of Al Qaeda East Africa cell and who is currently a top commander in Al Shabaab leading Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania fighters against Somalia government has also emerged as an influential figure among Kenyan Muslims. In a sense, with the spread of wahhabist doctrine and the harping of the perceived injustices against Muslims in Kenya, radical Islam remains, by far, the biggest threat to the existence of the state as we know it.