Armed police patrolled the streets of Kenya’s port city Mombasa on Wednesday after a prominent radical Muslim cleric assassinated overnight was buried as martyr.
But Kenya’s second city – a key transport hub for East Africa and a popular tourist destination – was reportedly calm in the morning, with the slain cleric’s mosque broadcasting appeals for restraint among his supporters.
The cleric Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, was a vocal supporter of Osama bin Laden, and was on UN sanctions lists accused of being a “leading facilitator and recruiter of young Kenyan Muslims for violent militant activity in Somalia”, and of having “strong ties” with Shebab leaders.
Better known as Makaburi or “grave” in Swahili, he had described last year’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, as “100-per cent justified”.
A reporter in the city said Muslim clerics called for calm from loudspeakers at Makaburi’s mosque throughout the night, as well making appeals on local radio stations.
The senior police officer in Mombasa Richard Ngatia confirmed Makaburi had been killed by “unknown assailants”.
Previous killings of clerics have sparked deadly riots, with supporters clashing with the police.
There were initial angry scenes outside the police station where the body had been taken, and police fired into the air to push back furious supporters of the cleric.
But while there was a tense atmosphere and police and security forces had deployed in large numbers – including putting extra armed guards around key churches in flashpoint areas – Mombasa was calm.
Britain’s foreign office said the killings had “led to unrest and increased tension in the area”, warning in a travel notice of the “possibility of further disturbances in the Mombasa area”.
Makaburi, dressed in white robes, was shot in the chest. Another young man was also shot dead alongside him.
Makaburi was buried shortly after midnight and hailed as a “martyr”.
A prominent leader at the controversial Musa Mosque, a scene of frequent unrest in Mombasa, Makaburi presented himself as a simple man promoting “true Islam”, and said the best examples of Islam were to be found in parts of Fallujah in Iraq, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Shebab-held areas of Somalia.