Hitmen for hire: Killer squads reign terror as police officers remain clueless

It is a worrying trend [Photo: Courtesy]

Just days before his mysterious death in police custody, David Wairimu Mwai confessed that he was a hired assassin.

Indeed his confessions is a chilling reminder that there is a thriving underworld hit squads despite police denial.

At face value, it is not easy to identify or detect killer gangs, but an assassin could be the nice next-door neighbour, relative or an acquaintance whose true intentions you may not know. Could this have been the case with Nation journalist Barrack Oduor who was allegedly lured into a trap by a person he claims was well known to him?

Oduor reportedly escaped a harrowing ordeal in the hands of ruthless captors who are believed to have eventually killed Sharon Otieno, a student at Rongo University. The shocking news came as Kenyans were still reeling from the admission by Mwai that he was a hitman.

According to Oduor, Sharon was a news source, who was ready to spill the beans about an alleged love affair with Migori Governor Okoth Obado (the Migori County Government through the Director of Communication however denied any linkage between Sharon and Governor Obado).

The scribe and the pregnant Sharon were scheduled to meet the governor’s personal assistant Michael Oyamo who had invited them to discuss the matter.

Oyamo allegedly tricked the two before leaving them in the hands of their tormentors. She was later found dead and it is believed the second-year student was killed by the kidnappers.

Sharon Otieno [Photo: Courtesy]

The abduction and murder came as police struggled to corroborate Mwai’s claims that he had been hired to eliminate Idriss Aden Mukhtar, a friend-turn-foe of Garissa governor Ali Korane.

Mwai died while being held at the Parklands Police Station. His body was found dangling from the rafters of the cells. It is still not clear if he committed suicide or was killed.

The two incidents point to the existence of killer squads, who chillingly are now targeting ordinary Kenyans. In the past, cases of contracted killings of regular, hustling Kenyans was unheard of. Until 2013, when a woman shocked the nation by admitting that she hired hitmen to kill her husband.

Faith Wairimu Maina told the court she conspired to murder her husband John Muthee Guama with whom they had two children.

Wairimu had approached a friend to help her get assassins. The friend went for a man who happened to be a police informant. The man alerted police officers who agreed to meet Wairimu to negotiate a fee.

The woman paid Sh40, 000 promising to clear the balance of Sh60, 000 once the job was done. The following day, Wairimu, who was with her husband at a bank in Githurai, tipped the hitmen to come and pick him.

The officers, posing as hitmen, went to the bank. Meanwhile, Wairimu excused herself as if she had no idea what happening. Muthee was picked by the officers who drove to Kasarani Police Station where they told him what his wife had planned.

They later smeared Muthee’s jacket with blood to convince Wairimu that they had killed her husband. She was arrested and charged in court.

What followed was an upsurge of similar cases, all of which shocked the country.

Faith Wairimu Maina [Photo: Courtesy]

Kenyans thought assassins only targeted politicians like JM Kariuki, Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko, Mugabe Were and George Muchai. But this, obviously, is no longer the case. Criminals are now being hired to either finish off business competitors, family members or to mete out revenge.

The trend is gradually gaining currency, with assassins and plotters becoming even bolder.

“Hit squads are becoming a phenomenon which only becomes entrenched in a country that has no capacity to investigate murders and where the rule of law has failed,” says security consultant Dr Simiyu Werunga.

According to the director of African Centre for Security and Strategic Studies, corruption and poverty fuel, the desire by some people in society to go for assassins, who he claims exists within and outside the police service.

“We are beginning to accept this hit squad mentality where people kill to be paid. We have to stop this culture, otherwise, Kenya will become a mafia country,” says Simiyu while giving the examples of Oscar Kang’ara, Jared Achok, Chris Musando and Wilson Mwangi Munene as not so mighty individuals fell by killer squads.

“It is a serious threat, especially when ordinary citizens without adequate security become targets,” adds Simiyu. He wonders why it has been difficult for police and intelligence to identify and dismantle the hit squads.

He is puzzled at how common people manage to get into contact and hire hitmen, yet security agents are unable. “With all the capacity, network, training and resources, why is it difficult for police and intelligence to get the assassins?” poses the consultant.

A court last year was told how Solomon Mwangi, the headmaster of Kiru Boys in Kiria-ini, Murang’a, was murdered at the behest of his wife Jane Muthoni.

Joseph Njuguna alias Karis, a criminal-turned-state-witness, told the court they were hired by Muthoni to kill the principal on suspicion that he was having an affair with another woman.

There is concern that hitmen will thrive as long as suspects don’t end up in jail or receive punishment commensurate with the committed crimes.

Police spokesman Charles Owino says there are no killer squads in the country. He cautions against hyping and generalising cases since murders have different motives.

“Criminals are always there and ready to beat the dragnet. I don’t think there are hit squads. The cases of homicide are not connected and have different motives. But it is our responsibility to ensure everyone is safe,” assures the spokesman.

George Musamali says the availability of opportunities and lack of trust in institutions like police, courts and prisons have forced individuals to use illegal means to solve disputes and seek justice.

“There are opportunities for hitmen while those who hire them have the money,” argues the former police officer turn security analyst.

According to Musamali, hiring a hitman is not a difficult task. The tricky part usually is whether such killer(s) will accomplish the job as contracted without living any trace of evidence.

He says most of the contracted killings in the country are carried out by amateurs, claiming professional assassins are thorough in their job. Professional hitmen are either snipers or former security agents, according to Musamali.

David Mwai [Photo: Courtesy]

In case of Mwai, his Taurus pistol failed. The brief by the paymaster was to make sure that Mukhtar is dead. Those who know him say he was inducted into crime by the notorious Gaza gang.

Musamali reveals that he has twice been approached for hit jobs, but turned down the offers in which some family members wanted certain individuals eliminated in property inheritance rows.

“It was last year when I was approached by people who were determined to eliminate the head of the family. I declined the offer and advised them to sort out their differences legally,” he reveals.

Another security analyst is of the view that sometimes the motive is not necessarily to kill but instill fear in targeted victims. This happens when the brief is a miscommunication between the master and the assassin.

“Sometimes a hitman may get the brief totally wrong. For instance, the instruction is just to intimidate a victim but the assassin may end up killing the person,” explained the analyst who preferred anonymity since he works for the government.

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