With the Muslim community angry and fearful over the murder of its leaders, the police said last evening that it was closing in on a big group of hit men.
On the night of December 28, Sheikh Mustafa Bahiga was shot five times and killed, bringing to seven, the tally of top Muslim clerics murdered in just two years.
Bahiga’s killing has forced Muslim leaders to warn the government to catch the killers or else…, and the police to apologise for investigation “failures”.
Last evening, Police Spokesman Fred Enanga said they were now working on intelligence information that could eventually lead to the arrest of key suspects in Bahiga’s murder.
Security sources had told The Observer that some men had been arrested, but Enanga disputed this. He said the police had identified some suspects but were gathering more collaborative evidence before effecting any arrests.
“Much as on the surface of it two men were seen carrying out the murder, but it was organized crime which means that it was planned and we are getting into the details of the planning meetings and the people who were involved,” Enanga said.
Eyewitnesses said Bahiga was shot by two men who escaped on a motorcycle. His assailants appeared to have trailed him to Bwebajja mosque on Entebbe road, where he was preparing to attend Ishae (evening prayers).
Bahiga had spent the day at Wandegeya mosque in Kampala, where he organized a preaching session (Darasa). He left at about 6:30pm with his three children (names withheld) and Sheikhs Salman Fal’si and Mahmood Kibaate (deputy Supreme Mufti). Fal’si was dropped at Nateete, a Kampala suburb and he (Bahiga) continued to Najjanankumbi Mosque for the Maghrib (sunset prayers) before continuing to drop Kibaate at Zzana.
By 7:50pm, Bahiga had reached Bwebajja mosque. His children left him in the car talking to someone on phone. The sheikh was attacked shortly by two men in his car, a Toyota Noah UAU 706U and shot five times through his right hand and chest . Worshippers inside the mosque first mistook the gunshots for electric sparks.
“When the gun shots intensified, we scampered out of the mosque through the rear entrances… after the shooting stopped we discovered that Sheikh Bahiga had been shot from his car,” a worshipper who was inside the mosque told The Observer on Tuesday.
“A man standing across the road came and told us that he had seen the assailants disappearing on a motorcycle,” he added.
Immediately after the shooting, Bahiga was breathing badly. He was rushed to Namulundu clinic. Until his death, Bahiga was the Kampala district Amir (leader) under the Jamu-i-yyat Da’awah As-salafiyyah, a group of Muslim youths, and also the finance secretary for the Kibuli-based Muslim leadership faction.
His murder came three days after the killing of another Muslim cleric in Mayuge, Daktoor Abdul-Qadir Muwaya the leader of Shiite Muslims in Uganda.
Sheikh Abdul-Karim Ssentamu was the first victim of these mysterious killings that have heightened tensions within the Muslim community.
Ssentamu was killed in April 2012 as he left Masjid Noor on William Street in Kampala. Two months later, his associate, Hajji Abubakar Abbas Kiweewa was killed at his Supermarket at Kisaasi, a city suburb. The number grew to four when two other Sheikhs Yunus Abubakar Mudungu and Muhammad Maganda were killed at Masjid Umar in Bugiri in August 2012.
A month later, Sheikh Abdul Jawad Sentunga, the Imam of Namayemba Masjid Salaaf was murdered. Since then, police investigations have failed to pinpoint the people behind the killings. The latest killings came after flyers were circulated in Kampala mosques listing a number of sheikhs as possible targets.
Some sheikhs in Kampala have since reported the threats to Police. But by the time the seventh cleric was gunned down, police had not picked interest in the threats. As Muslims converged on Kibuli mosque on Monday for Bahiga’s funeral prayers, their anger at police was unmistakable.
“Investigating the cause of these killings is not so complicated for us to believe that government has failed… the Kasiwukira case [murdered businessman] showed us that the police has the capacity [to investigate],” Supreme Mufti Sheikh Zubair Kayongo told police chief Kale Kayihura during the prayers.
Kayihura sat quietly under the tent with other sheikhs as clerics meted out their anger. Some, like Prince Kassim Nakibinge Kakungulu broke down in tears hardly a minute after he took to the podium.
“We had a meeting with you [Kayihura] till 2:30am [Sunday night] and I told you that Muslims have remained calm not because they are weak… ” a teary Nakibinge said.
Some warned that police’s laxity would force the Muslims to take the law in their hands. To calm tempers, Kayihura apologized for the “failures and inefficiencies of the police” in investigating the murders.
Following the 2012 killings, Muslims assigned Bahiga to work with police on the murder investigations. The choice of Bahiga was based on his experience as a police detective that spanned more than 20 years. After months of investigations, Bahiga allegedly told some of his colleagues that he could not continue with the assignment because he feared for his life.
Kayihura told Muslims at Kibuli that the killings have a direct connection with the ADF rebels.
“What is clear is that the Sheikhs are being killed by ADF. What remains is [the identification] of the individuals,” Kayihura said.
Bahiga, according to Kayihura, was murdered in the same way Mayuge’s Muwaya was killed. Like the five clerics who were killed in 2012, the recent victims were part of the nearly 400 Muslim clerics who were arrested around 1996 for their alleged connection to the rebel ADF activities.
Muwaya, according to a security source, was pardoned by President Museveni because of his close links to then Iranian President Hashim Rafsanjani. Bahiga was among the 360 convicts who were freed from Katojo prison in Kabalore district on December 9, 1999. Some died from the resultant fighting between the rebels and government forces while the survivors sought amnesty.
In trying to explain the ADF connection, Police Spokesman Fred Enanga told The Observer on Monday that their investigations are focusing on the similarities in the way the sheikhs have been killed.
“They are killed in similar ways they are targeted at 8pm during their last prayer of the day [Ishae] and then shot dead by boda-boda cyclists trailing them near their homes and at the mosques,” Enanga said.
The ADF connection has been dismissed by sections within the Muslim community, with some claiming that the killings could be the work of operatives known to security forces. This is based on a recent documentary about the recent killings of Muslim clerics in Kenya, aired by Al Jazeera, a Qatar based international news channel.
A similar claim was echoed by Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata Batte at Kibuli on Monday. He told mourners that there were clear signs that government was fuelling the killings.
“Your [government] threats will not intimidate us,” Muzaata who claimed to be on the hit list said.
“You can go on with your claims that you are a g government that cannot be shaken but we are not willing to look on as clerics get killed one by one.”
Kayihura carefully avoided to respond to the charges during the Kibuli event. Enanga, in a separate interview said police was looking into political, religious, business and family rivalries as possible causes of the killings.
“Out of 15 suspects we are holding in Mayuge there is nothing indicating such [ADF] linkages it is about the enemies we have in our daily activities.
The different versions we have indicated political differences and business conflicts since he was a prominent businessman,” Enanga said.
According to Enanga, Muwaya and Bahiga’s murders are two isolated cases, drawn close by the similar methods used in the killings. The police are understood to be working on leads that connect Muwaya’s murder to politics and Bahiga’s to internal wrangles within the Tabliqs of Jamu-iyyat Da’awah As-salafiyyah group.
The tabliqs have been wrangling for months over the management of the William Street mosque. In November, the group’s leader Sheikh Muhammad Yunus Kamoga threw out the mosque’s management team which Bahiga was a part.
The team subsequently denounced Kamoga as their leader. They named a Makerere University lecturer Dr Harunah Jjemba as their new leader, escalating the tensions. At Kibuli, Bahiga’s son told mourners that before his father breathed his last, he mentioned Kamoga as one of his assailants.
The teenager’s claims are corroborated by one of the people that came to Bahiga’s rescue after the shooting.
“In the car, we urged him to recite the Shahaadah [Islamic creed] which he did, and at the clinic, a doctor came and asked us whether we knew Kamoga because he [Bahiga] kept saying that Kamoga was his assailant,” the man said.
Kamoga issued a press statement on Monday denying the allegations. “What we ask of government is to investigate this case to its core so that culprits are apprehended and arraigned before the courts of law,” Kamoga wrote.
“This is the only way that will put to rest these claims that are likely to widen the rifts within us,” he added.
Source : The Observer