A nondescript 24-year-old man in blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt walked up to a security guard outside of the United States embassy in Nairobi yesterday (Oct. 27) and stabbed him in the face, shouting “Why? Why?”
The guard under attack fired his assault rifle and nearby police rushed over. The assailant was soon lying on the ground, bleeding and motionless. A police officer stood over him and shot him point blank in the head, a witness told the New York Times.
George Kinoti, a spokesman for Kenya’s national police, said the officer who shot the man was acting in self defense.
The motivation behind the attack is still unclear. Authorities have raised the possibility that the attack may have been linked to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab or that the man acted as a “lone wolf terrorist.” Kenyan police have said the man was from Wajir County in northeastern Kenya, near the country’s border with Somalia. The only item found on him was a Safaricom SIM card, according to local media.
One thing the incident brought into plain view is how quickly the Kenyan police resort to lethal force and executions. Police killings have been a problem in Kenya, where local NGOs say the police were responsible for 126 cases of summary executions last year, almost three a week. According to Kenya’s constitution, firearms should only be used only to protect the life of a police officer or other persons, or in self-defense “against imminent threat of life or serious injury.”
A 2009 probe by United Nations researchers concluded that police killings in Kenya were “systemic” and “widespread.” In 2011, footage of undercover officers executing two Kenyan men in broad daylight caused a national outcry and investigation. Activists say police killings have continued. Earlier this year, the bodies of a well-known human rights lawyer, his client, and a driver were found bound and mutilated in a river after they were involved in a harassment lawsuit against the police.
Among those killed by police in 2015 were eight young men suspected of robbery, according to Independent Medico-Legal Unit, a Kenyan NGO that monitors police conduct. They were between the ages of 15 and 26 and were shot at close range as they were kneeling or lying on the ground.
The US embassy in Nairobi is closed today. After an truck bombing attack in in 1998 that left 200 people dead, the embassy was moved from the city center to a residential suburb of Nairobi. It is one of the most secured buildings in the country.