Professional hit squads ‘on prowl’ in key towns

The execution of two VIPs in a span of one week has again brought to the fore the question of scary underworld operations by killer squads for hire that are giving Nairobi the dubious tag of a very unsafe metropolis.

Former Kabete MP George Muchai was gunned down on a prime CDB street in the wee hours of Saturday 10 days ago by members of a gang that exhibited the traits of highly professional hit-men. One gunman, brandishing a rifle wrapped in a cloth, fired one bullet each to kill the driver, Muchai and two bodyguards, despite all of them having been armed.

And on Saturday morning, gunmen raided the Syokimau home of former Moyale MP Philip Godana and shot him dead in front of his mother, wife (IEBC Commissioner Kulle Godana) and three children. The killing of the two brings the number to at least 10 known cases of people who have been executed by gunmen in Nairobi and its environs within the last six months.

The ruthless, professional streak of the hit-men has got security agents worried that well-trained killers for hire are on the prowl waiting to be paid and directed at targets. Independent security experts say killer squads are suspected to be made up of ex-police officers and military servicemen who have lost their jobs and find themselves idle and needing money, with a lethal skill that they can use.

“The killings we have seen are not by simple thugs who have just acquired a gun. These are well-trained professionals who know how to handle big firearms calmly and without fear, going by the styles of execution. If someone can approach an armed target(s) and overcome them, that is not an amateur,” says a Serious Crimes Prevention Unit officer.

The officer, who could not be identified as he is not authorised to speak on behalf of his unit, said there are many squads for hire operating especially in Nairobi and Mombasa, waiting to be paid to execute a target. The officer says the fact that many killers in such executions are able to disappear and cover their tracks, is testimony they are professionals, the reason why they suspect ex-officers.

“The commonest reasons we have identified for engaging killer squads include political grudges or competition, land disputes, sour business deals, love triangles, and rivalry and double-dealing in the drugs trade,” said the officer, who is among those involved in tracking down the killers of Muchai.

In Mombasa, he said, most murders are drug-related, while in Nairobi it’s to do with property deals. “We know the killers get paid handsomely—some as much as Sh20 million for a big target like a politician. Drug-related murders also earn the killers a lot of money, which is why the deadly trend is seeming to be on the rise,” said the police source.

“One informer told us the killers demand half down payment before the ‘job’ while the other half is delivered after the execution.” The officer says the cartels operate through underworld contacts. He adds that some of the squad members are well-connected people who socialise with politicians, drug barons or even informal security gangs guarding politicians.

“In the underworld, they refer to execution as a ‘job’. If word is out that there is a ‘job’ to be done, the killers are not in short supply,” he says. He says sometimes police have tips on who the killers in a particular ‘job’ are, but it is very hard to pin them down with evidence since they operate very carefully, with nothing linking them to their payers.

“Sometimes the killers may only know their underworld contact, but not the actual person who had given the contract for a ‘job’,” says the source. “We have arrested people for interrogation after an execution, but had to release them because there was no iota of evidence, yet many sources in the underworld had given tips to identify the culprits.”

According to security expert and former member of the General Service Unit elite team, George Musamali, the new crime wave of “professional hit squads” is responsible for mafia-style executions and can partly be blamed on failure to monitor hundreds of ex-officers who are out there jobless.

“There is also wanting police leadership and coordination between the Kenya Police Service, Administration Police Service and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. Lack of direction and constant wrangles amongst them have jeopardised coordination,” Musamali added.

Musamali says, the National Police Service Commission is yet to implement the proposed monitoring system of all retired security officers and those who exit from the service amid massive brain drain that has hit all security agencies.

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