Dreaded officer Ahmed Rashid’s case revives debate over crime and police killings

Police collect a body

Police collect a body of a 20-year-old man who was shot dead by a police officer at Majira Police Post in Maara Sub County, Tharaka Nithi County on July 31, 2021. The man was serving a non-custodial sentence at the post when he was shot under unclear circumstances. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Dahir Kheri Robble was just at home after attending Friday prayers in Eastleigh, Nairobi and having lunch with his family when the bad news came.

His son, Mohammed Dahir Kheri, who had left that same morning for prayers at the nearby mosque, had reportedly been shot dead by police at the Garissa Lodge shopping centre, less than 200 metres from their house.

In the hours that followed and as Mr Robble’s family was trying to come to terms with what happened to their teenage son, a video showing a plaincloths police officer pumping bullets into two unarmed men went viral in March, 2017.

By this time, Mr Robble’s family had already been to the City Mortuary to get their son’s body for burial according to Muslim traditions but their request was denied, supposedly on orders from ‘above.’ It would take them another week to get Dahir’s body and that is after pressure from human rights groups plus the media, but that was just a small fraction of their nightmare.

Their actual nightmare was not just the death of their son but how it happened; during the day on a street with dozens of witnesses and paraded to the whole world through major television stations using an amateur video shot from a nearby balcony using a mobile phone.

In the video, Ahmed Rashid, the infamous police officer who is finally set to be charged with the murder of Mohammed Dahir Kheri and Jamal Mohammed five years after their death, is seen grabbing an unarmed boy from a crowd and ordering him to lie down next to another teenager who is already dead.

Once on the ground, Sergeant Rashid, dressed in a maroon T-shirt and black trouser, fires two shots at the boy who Mr Robble identified as his son Dahir. The officer, realising that the boy had not yet died of two bullets shot at close range asks for a second pistol from his colleague and fires five more rounds.

“My son had never carried a gun. Leave alone a gun; even a knife. The police say that but the gun they put on him is not his. He should have been arrested,” Mr Robble told the Nation after the shooting.

“We were told that this boy was walking around with pick pockets. We asked him and he denied,” Mohamed’s uncle Omar Mohamed told us at that time.

It is now five years since Dahir and Mohammed were gunned down in cold blood. While justice may have finally come for their families, in reality their killing may have provided a blue print on the war against armed gangs in Nairobi, which the new government is trying too hard to reverse.

“Extrajudicial killings must come to an end,” President William Ruto, who pledged to end the vice on the campaign trail, told police chiefs when he met them three weeks ago at State House.

“It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, it offends every principle of the right to life,” added Dr Ruto, who in July felt first-hand how devastating a rogue police unit can be when two Indians and their Kenyan driver working in his campaign team disappeared.

Yet, everything may have been different had the shooting of the two boys in 2017 been taken differently. Instead of condemning it, the state at that time took a populist approach, favoured by a section of Kenyans who support execution of armed criminals.

This divided opinion and debate among Kenyans has once again been stirred in the wake of the announcement by the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) that Sergeant Rashid is set to be charged with murder. For the last three days, social media has been abuzz with some people praising him for reducing crime in Eastleigh and surrounding areas and others saying justice has been done.

“If he is charged with murder, then it seems we value the lives of criminals more than those of murdered innocent Kenyans. This is just an innocent officer who was trying to make our streets safe,” posted Kuria Mugwanja in a heated debate on Twitter that has refused to die since Thursday.

“The same people decrying River Yala bodies are the same ones supporting Rashid today. Same people lamenting forced disappearances couldn't care less about Rashid's crimes. Kenyans lack consistency. We either move towards rule of law or anarchy,” observed Nahashon Kimemia.

From such arguments, it is clear that conversations can easily get lost on account of emotion. But looking at the law, the fate of Sergeant Rashid is likely to be similar to that of former colleagues who went through the court process. While the National Police Service (NPS)has officers accused of killing suspects at will, the unlucky ones who get caught usually face the full force of the law.

Under the Police Service Act, use of lethal force is justified only when it is unavoidable and human life has to be protected. “A police officer shall always attempt to use non-violent means first and force may only be employed when non-violent means are ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result,” the law says.

Some of the officers who are currently serving sentences for murder include constables Denis Langat and Kennedy Okuli for killing Abdia Omar Adan in Rhamu in 2018, and the former Ruaraka OCS Nahashon Mutua for killing Martin Koome inside a police cell.

The most controversial and which mirrors the circumstances that Sergeant Rashid has found himself in is that of Titus Musila, popularly known as Katitu. In 2014, the residents of Githurai blocked Thika road for hours after Katitu was charged with murder following recommendations of IPOA. Although the protests lasted for days, Katitu was sentenced for 15 years for the murder of Kenneth Mwangi.

“I decline to accept the argument that Katitu was loved by residents for his resilience in fighting crime because justice does not recognise popularity,” said Justice James Wakiaga before sending the officer who had become popular due to the instant solutions he was offering for the crime prone Githurai area.

Like Katitu, Rashid, who is hated and loved in equal measure, rose to fame through the instant justice he offered to criminals by ridding them off the streets for good in Eastleigh, Mathare and Pangani. Before being thrust in the limelight in 2017 as Kenya’s most controversial police officer, Sergeant number 79249 Ahmed Rashid was a corporal based at Central Police Station at the city centre and attached to the SPIV squad.

SPIV is basically a team of not more than 10 officers, usually relieved of the normal police beats to allow them burst complex crimes. Officers in the squads, which were disbanded two weeks ago by new Nairobi Police boss Adamson Bungei as part of the new order within the service, never donned police uniforms in order to remain under cover.

Then in 2014 the government, tired of a spate of small-scale terror attacks in Eastleigh, launched ‘Operation Usalama Watch’ that placed the area on lockdown as hundreds of General Service Unit (GSU) officers rounded up illegal immigrants. Over 4,000 people were arrested, placed on lockdown at Kasarani Stadium before being driven to the Somali border and told never to come back.

In response, several forms of youth-led resistance and defiance emerged in an effort to challenge long-established misconceptions about Eastleigh as a terrorist safe haven and widespread perception about Kenyan Somalis. One of these groups was ‘Superpower.’

Those in the know say the business community, which was at that time facing pressure from vigilante groups that had occupied the vacuum left by the extermination of terror cells, was said to have immediately welcomed Superpower with open arms as a home-grown solution offering protection from rival gangs for a fee.

But when the police started investigating whether Superpower had any terror links and who its financiers were, the business community dumped the gang, leaving it broke and on its own. To survive, it turned on the community, robbing and stabbing anyone that stood on its way.

Frustrated, cornered and afraid, the business community turned to the government for assistance, asking it to create a unit to specifically deal with runaway crime in the area. A crack unit headed by Rashid dubbed the ‘Pangani Six’ was born. Other officers at its inception who we can only identify by one name for legal reasons apart from those who have died, included Abdi Aziz, Liban, Mukhatar, Hashid and Adow Abdilahi.

Pangani Six had a mastery of the widely spoken Somali dialect in the area. Unlike the other officers, the unit, which reported directly to the OCPD and wore civilian, immediately embarked on profiling and arresting anyone suspected to be a criminal.

Things, however, changed in 2017 when constable Abdi Aziz was killed while riding in a matatu from Mathare to Eastleigh. Sergeant Rashid, who by then was just known within Eastleigh, suspected Dahir and Mohammed, the two teenagers he would later kill, of murdering his colleague. Dahir had previously posted a photo on Facebook of him wearing a police jacket next to Mohammed and a wad of cash. The photo went viral.

But in a dramatic twist that seemed to have been given an official nod as the government faced a backlash internationally, the BBC was allowed to interview an audacious Rashid in a documentary about the Pangani Six where the officer also talked about his murdered colleague.

“It still hurts,” he told the BBC for the documentary while trying to contain his tears and at the same time carrying a child belonging to his fallen colleague Abdi Aziz.

However, instead of holding Sergeant Rashid accountable even after he admitted on camera that he killed the two boys out of anger, security chiefs appeared keen to recreate elsewhere the Pangani Six model that some saw to have been effective against criminals in Eastleigh and surrounding areas.

Seemingly out-witted by criminal gangs, and with a Judiciary setting free the accused on bail as a right, the police have often resorted to brutal force.