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'Why I shot a man dead'

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Police officer Yunus Athman (right) and his lawyer Eugene Wangila outside the Mombasa High Court. The officer is charged with the murder of Mbarak Maitha Omar.

Photo credit: Brian Ocharo | Nation Media Group

On the night of September 10, 2018, Police Constable Yunus Ali Athman received a phone call from his superiors, which left him in a court battle to prove his innocence six years later.

The phone call reported a criminal gang in Likoni, allegedly terrorising locals and stealing items, including livestock.

Athman told a Mombasa court that he was at his home in Mtongwe when he received a call from his superiors at the Mtongwe Police Station.

"I was instructed to go to the location where the criminals were hiding. An informant was supposed to contact me and lead me to their hideout," he recalled.

Since the informant delayed contacting him, he decided to go directly to the station to inquire about the assignment. He had been assigned to be part of the special team dealing with criminal gangs in Likoni.

"While on my way to the station, I received another call informing me that the OCS had arranged for someone to guide me to the criminals," he told the court.

Athman then met with the informant, Mr Mohamed Kassim Karega, and they took a motorbike to Mwanza village in Likoni, where the alleged criminals were hiding.

The motorbike rider was Mr Albert Wekesa.

Upon reaching the hideout of the criminals, they did not find the gang as expected.

Mbaraka Maitha Omar

They then proceeded to a house owned by Mbaraka Maitha Omar. The information provided to Mr Athman suggested that Omar was part of the gang wielding machetes, responsible for stealing cattle in the area.

"I looked inside and saw no one. The door was partially open. Soon after, Omar appeared and brandished a machete," he said.

At that moment, the officer reportedly fired at Omar, shooting him twice and leaving him injured.

Subsequently, Mr Athman and Mr Karega were arrested and charged with Omar's murder. While the charge against Mr Karega was dropped, the state proceeded with prosecuting Mr Athman for the incident.

On Wednesday, before the court, Mr Athman regretted responding to the phone call and proceeding to the assignment.

"I wish I had known there was a machete there; I would not have gone," he told High Court Judge Anne Ong'injo.

The officer admitted before the judge that he was involved in the fatal shooting of Omar while searching for criminal gangs in Likoni.

However, Mr Athman informed the court he was defending himself from the threat of an imminent attack, as he was confronted by a machete-wielding suspect.

Mr Athman informed Justice Ong’injo that he shot Omar twice, in the arm and head, in self-defence.

Stepped back

"Omar attempted to attack me with a machete, but I stepped back and shot him in the hand. I continued shooting, and the bullet hit him in the head. I was at risk of being killed. My gun only had six bullets," Mr Athman stated.

Following the shooting, the suspect claimed that other criminals, supposedly the deceased's accomplices, arrived, forcing him to escape to a nearby thicket to hide.

He claimed that if he had not used his gun to defend himself when Omar attacked him, he would be dead.

However, Mr Athman denied any involvement in planning the murder.

"It was a moment of panic, I had never faced such a situation before. I shot him to make an arrest. I wanted him to drop the machete so I could apprehend him, that was my intention. My life and that of the two others who were with me were in jeopardy," he explained.

Through his lawyer Eugene Wangila, Mr Athman stated that he was not acquainted with the deceased before the incident and was led to  Omar's residence by an informant.

The officer informed the court that the deceased tried to attack Karega and Wekesa upon their entry into his house during the search.

"Kassim and Wekesa retreated and fled, but I remained still. He intended to harm me as I was in close proximity," he explained during questioning by state prosecutor Bernard Ngiri.

Athman has denied killing Omar.

He was initially charged alongside Mr Karega, who later became a state witness.

On a motorcycle

The court was informed that on the day of the incident, Mr Athman went to Omar's residence to make an arrest.  He was accompanied by Mr Karega on a motorcycle driven by Mr Wekesa.

Upon arrival at the mentioned residence, Mr Athman allegedly shot and killed Omar.

Mr Wekesa, a crucial witness in the murder trial against Mr Athman, also died under mysterious circumstances. His body was found in the Dongo Kundu area in Kwale.

The court ruled that Athman had a case to answer.

In his defence, Athman stated that the incident was quite peculiar as he did not intend to spill any blood but to make a lawful arrest.

According to the suspect, the deceased refused to greet him when he entered his house but instead started shouting at Mr Karega and threatening him.

The suspect mentioned that it was at this moment that the deceased brandished a machete, leading to a confrontation that resulted in the gunshots.

“I shot him, and he fell. I informed my boss who had tasked me with searching for and arresting the criminal gang,” he said.

Athman noted that cattle were stolen in the area, and the machete-wielding gang had been threatening the locals.

The suspect has requested time to present his final defence to prove his innocence before the court delivers its judgment.