Behind Kenya’s police death Squads


Kenyans have expressed anger at police killings

Police stand accused of being involved in extra-judicial killings.

It was the rush hour. The clock ticked towards the magical end of the working hour for the residents of the Ifo camp, one of the series of refugee camps making the Dadaab Refugee Complex in Garissa, northeastern Kenya, about 40 km to Liboi, the Kenya-Somalia border crossing point.

“Lie low like an envelope,” hissed a man, wearing brown khaki trousers and checked grey shirt, seemingly a plain cloth policeman. He was speaking to a man, a suspect, brought to the Ifo Camp administration Police camp on the back of a rusty pickup truck, accused of possessing a firearm and stealing two sacks of the stimulant, khat from a woman.

Turning to two uniformed police officers,  manning the camp security desk and the Occurrence Book, the police record of happenings at the station, the man in grey shirts ordered them  to ensure the man at the back of the pickup is kept lying motionless until the arrival of specialist interrogators.

This is a typical day at this station. The station has been attacked several times by the elements of the Somali-based terror group, the Al Shabaab, which has intensified its attacks on Kenya since 2011.

The arrest of a man and his pickup, seemingly a viable weapon for the Al Shabaab, was  a breakthrough, coming days after the deadly attack on the Garissa University College 120 km away. Intensified security operations to net terror suspects believed to be hiding at hard-to-reach places like the Ifo camp, where security agents mostly carry out patrols, but remain timid because of the risk of attacks by lone wolf Al Shabaab fighters and sympathisers remain threats to the law enforcement.

Police engagement in executions

In response, the Kenyan security agents appear to engage in what many people call summary executions and enforced disappearances under the cover of darkness to wipe off threats.  In the days immediately following the Garissa University attack, where 148 students were killed by the Al Shabaab, several suspected members of the terror group were tracked, arrested and killed.

A policeman who took part in the security clean up operations targeting the Al Shabaab in Northeastern Kenya confessed to a difficult lifestyle after a series of abductions and eliminations.

“Being a military officer or a policeman in Kenya especially in North Eastern region is not an easy thing. It makes you understand the true meaning of life. You live today as if you won’t see tomorrow,” the officer, whose identity we cannot reveal, said after participating in a series of targeted killings.

Among the suspected Al Shabaab militants summarily killed were two men arrested in Mandera, northern Kenya, which has witnessed the most virulent series of terror attacks by the Al Shabaab.

“The two men were among a group of the Al Shabaab fighters who seized control of Tumtish mosque in Kabasalo village in Ijara district, Garissa County in the northeastern region on 20 May 2015.

According to the informant, one of the suspects participated in the  attack on 22 November 2014 when the Al Shabaab stopped a bus carrying passengers to Nairobi and shot dead 28 non-Muslims.  Those killed included policemen who served the Rural Border Patrol Unit of the Kenyan Administration Police in Mandera, a remote part of Kenya.

“The suspects were arrested.  The men were aged 25 and 40 respectively. They were all from Bula Hawa, the second largest city in Somalia’s Gedo province. Their mission was to monitor the movement of our people (police). They were monitoring our movements at a local watering point. We received information from a member of the local community who is a key ally. We killed them and dumped their bodies in the bush. The two men were picked and taken to the Administration Police Camp. They were beaten. One died instantly. The other one was taken to the AP commanders who made the decision about his elimination. We had no option. We could not spare him because he had participated in the Makkah bus killings.  Right now, if you are found to be a member of any terror group, you just get eliminated,” the policeman told M&G Africa.

Human rights body raises alarm

Human rights advocates say cases of enforced disappearances and summary executions believed to be carried out by specialist death squads within the Police and other armed units remain rampant.

There are 520 cases of reported extra-judicial killings since 2013 alone. In 2014, the number of those killed numbered 199, the highest compared to 125 people killed in 2015 and 143 people killed in 2013.

Ndung’u Wainaina, Executive Director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC), said the impunity within the Police service had largely made the police unaccountable to citizens.  “The position of a Police officer is easily abused, leading serious human rights violations, including torture and death. A greater degree of oversight is required,” Wainaina said.

“The system is corrosive and damaged. It is the same death squads that are responsible for the disappearance of the Muslim youth. Unfortunately, we are also beginning to hear of reported cases of disappearances of ex-military officers in Mombasa and other areas,” said Al Amin Kimathi, a prominent human rights activist. Kimathi was arrested in 2010 and detained in Uganda for consistently voicing concern over the anti-terrorism policies and tactics being used by the security agencies to eliminate.

Johnson Kavulidi, Chairman of the National Police Service Commission, a body created to oversee matters of discipline and reforms within the Police Service, said the Commission was not aware of the claims about the existence of death squads within the Police Service. “The Police is a disciplined service. I have not come across a matter requiring our attention,” Kavuludi told the Mail and Guardian, when asked whether cases or claims of unprofessional conduct have been brought to the attention of the Commission following numerous public complaints against the Police.


In July, 5,000 demonstrators, including lawyers, hawkers, human rights activists and international human rights organisations, taxi drivers and motorcycle taxi riders—boda boda—took to the streets of Nairobi to protest the existence of the police death squads and extra-judicial killings.

The demonstrations planned by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), the bar and supported by judges and magistrates followed the brutal killing of 32-year old Nairobi lawyer, Willie Kimani, his client, Josephat Mwenda and driver, Joseph Muiruri, after a court appearance in Mavoko, 30 km outside Nairobi.

The trio was abducted shortly after their court appearance on 23 June. Their mutilated bodies were removed from Ol Donyo Sabuk River in Machakos, Eastern Kenya on 1 July, with hands tied to the back using sisal ropes.  Four police officers have been arrested. They are awaiting the conclusion of the investigations into the murder of the three.

Nairobi civil rights advocate Suba Churchil, said the killing of lawyer Kimani, who worked previously as an investigator with the Independent Medical Legal Unit (IMLU), an organisation championing against forced disappearances and police killings, indicates the existence of the death squads.

“The government, through a clique within its security department, still maintains mobile numbers that it routinely uses to intimidate and threaten human rights defenders and the civil society actors without action being taken against them when reported,” Suba said.

Suba said the style of killing the defenders and perceived opponents of the government “reinforces the publicly held fear that there is a killer squad within the Police that does the dirty job of eliminating those who seek to hold state and state officers to account.”

Kavuludi, whose Commission has been carrying out investigations into the suitability of senior police officers to serve and questioning the sources of Police Commanders’ unexplained wealth, said there was no link between the bad elements serving the force and the death squads. He insists discipline was paramount.

“A bad officer is a bad officer. Being in the Police service does not make them any better. Our job is not to contain the Police officers who lack discipline. The laws we are applying are not premised on the removal of the Police officers from the force but to ensure that discipline specific to the Police is supreme,” Kavuludi said in an interview with the Mail and Guardian.

Police Spokesperson Charles Owino, who braved the storm to face striking lawyers, despite shouts against his presence and against his efforts to address the demonstrators carrying mock coffins and red water paint—denoting blood—said the entire force had a diverse body of characters.

“We are a population of 100,000 people. In a family, you get forth bad people. When it comes to the Police, these Policemen and Police women do not come from the moon, there are bound to be bad elements,” Owino said on a local TV channel.

Crime analysts say the existence of the police death squads, like other shadowy Special Forces squads in other countries around the world, is usually indispensable weapons of state control.