At the time of his assassination, Kenyan Islamist cleric Abubakar Shariff Ahmed was revered as an important figurehead among extremist circles, sparking concerns that his death could derail dialogue efforts rather than stem youth radicalism in the Coast region.
Although Ahmed, known as Makaburi, had become al-Shabaab's "poster boy" in Kenya, his death should not be celebrated, said Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa.
He said Makaburi's death would demoralise al-Shabaab members in the long-term if a charismatic replacement is not found, but his elimination itself is not an end to radicalism and violence in the short-term.
"Makaburi was part of the dialogue we have been holding with religious leaders, youths, [civil society] and the larger community," Marwa told Sabahi. "I am not certain how sincerely he was committed to the cause of dialogue, but it may derail a little."
Suspicions that the government may have been involved in his killing could also further undermine the government's peace efforts in the Coast region, he said.
"But in the long term, [his followers] will be demoralised without a figure to look up to for inspiration and rhetoric," he added.
To restore public trust and contain the escalation of violence, the government will continue with community dialogue, he said.
Makaburi, who was killed April 1st by unidentified gunmen outside Shanzu Law Courts in Mombasa, was a controversial figure associated with Masjid Shuhadaa (formerly Masjid Mussa) in Mombasa, and was on international sanctions lists for supporting terrorist groups.
He was a close ally of radical Islamist Aboud Rogo Mohammed, who was assassinated in August 2012 in a drive-by shooting. Rogo's successor Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail and three of his companions were also assassinated in a drive-by shooting in October 2013, sparking riots in Mombasa.
While Makaburi was not seen as a direct replacement for Rogo and Ismail, after their deaths he had become a more visible leader among radicals in Kenya.
In all three cases, police have not apprehended any suspects and the deaths have gone unpunished.
Marwa said investigations were ongoing to establish who was behind the killings, denying claims that the government was involved.
"It is not the business of the government to eliminate suspects," he said. "We were not involved in the previous killings and I strongly believe that we are not involved in Makaburi's death."
Makaburi's increasing radicalism over time
Director of the Kenya Police Reserve and Community Policing Aggrey Adoli, who served as Coast region police chief until February, said Makaburi did not possess the oratory prowess and charisma of Rogo but had become bolder after Rogo's death.
Before Rogo's death, Makaburi was viewed as withdrawn, soft spoken and too shy to be considered a natural replacement, Adoli told Sabahi.
"Rogo's fiery and confrontational style of delivering speeches, sermons and lectures is in sharp contrast to the calm and collected nature of Makaburi," he said. "But in both delivery and conduct they both had ability to poison and radicalise the youths."
By the time of his death, supporters saw Makaburi's character as humble and non-confrontational as a virtue to spread radicalism, Adoli said.
Makaburi was also respected by jihadists because of his ties to al-Qaeda in Yemen, as he reportedly travelled there frequently and lived there between 1980 and 1995.
"What is certain is that on his return he had developed strange views at a time when radicalism was still a strange phenomenon in Kenya," he said.
"If you compare the two of them, Makaburi had closer ties to Yemen where he mingled with al-Qaeda operatives and also trained in various guns," said Adoli, underscoring how essential Makaburi was to extremist networks in Mombasa even while Rogo was alive.
"When we were investigating his activities around 2010 Makaburi operated discreetly," he said, adding that authorities could not gather enough evidence at that time to prosecute him.
By 2012, when police connected him to al-Shabaab's recruitment drives in Kenya, Adoli said they noticed his modus operandi had changed.
After Rogo's death, Makaburi shifted from his behind-the-scenes activities to taking a more visible leadership role and being more vocal and open about his views.
Makaburi cleared any doubts about his allegiance to al-Shabaab when he described the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi as "100-percent justified".
"We were a bit surprised that he was now supporting violence openly, even in the media," Adoli said describing the shift in Makaburi's behaviour.
"There are four or six other individuals we were pursuing in the war on terror, but no one can replace him in the near future," he said. "Makaburi was our main man and his death, regardless how he met it, is a positive step on war on terror."
Killing clerics could radicalise moderate youth
Security analyst and retired Kenyan army Colonel Daud Sheikh Ahmed also said it will be difficult to replace Makaburi's influence and connections in the near future.
"In a way, Makaburi took over from where Rogo left off," Ahmed told Sabahi.
"[With the belief] that he was a marked man and would be killed anyway, Makaburi came out [in the] open," he said. "Even al-Shabaab in Somalia does not operate as openly as Makaburi did. That set him apart and provided potential radicals with a point-man."
Therefore, Makaburi's death is a significant blow to radicalism and the general image of al-Shabaab, Ahmed said, adding that the group will find it difficult to find another notable Kenyan to represent them.
"Through Makaburi, al-Shabaab had wanted to shrug off claims that the group is only [made of] Somalis and fighting for Somalia," he said.
The boldness of Makaburi's speeches in the last few years was exactly what won him the support of Rogo followers and other likeminded people.
Nevertheless, Mombasa County Senator Hassan Omar Hassan warned that if the state was found to be behind the killings of Rogo, Ismail and Makaburi, it could inadvertently fuel al-Shabaab rhetoric and recruitment.
"Those being killed may openly support al-Shabaab or other terror outfits, but killing them instead of arresting them and prosecuting them could be motivation enough to attract even Muslim moderates who have been against violence meted out by al-Shabaab," Hassan told Sabahi.
"These killings are giving us leaders a hard time to prevail upon our people [and ensure that they] maintain calm and respect rules of the country," he said. "We maintain that dialogue is the solution to this violent standoff. It may take more time than the government expects but these extrajudicial killings are scuttling dialogue effort." via sabahionline