Gunmen in Mombasa, Kenya, have shot dead an influential moderate Muslim cleric who was a vocal opponent of the radical preachings of Somalia's Islamist al-Shabab insurgents.
Kenya has been hit by attacks - such as this one in Mombasa in May 2014 - since invading Somalia in 2011
Mohamed Idris, chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, was shot in the stomach shortly before dawn on Tuesday (10.06.2014) as he headed to prayers at a mosque.
The death of Mohamed Idris is seen as a "big blow" to Kenya's efforts to defeat extremism
Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa said it was a drive-by shooting, with unknown gunmen firing from a motorbike.
"They shot him in the abdomen and he was pronounced dead at the hospital," the senior police official said.
Marwa said it would be premature to blame anybody for the attack and appealed for patience as inquiries proceeded. "The investigation is based on the suspicious characters that we've seen, that's why we are asking for more time," he said.
Idris was chairman of a key mosque that was recently taken over by radical youths, and according to press reports, he had been accused of helping the authorities. The preacher had said he feared for his life.
"There was a power struggle at Sakina mosque, where he was supposed to be installed as a sheikh, between his supporters and another radical group opposed to him," Mombasa police chief Robert Kitur said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to "bring the killers to book."
Kenyatta said in a statement that Sheikh Idris was "at the forefront in the fight against the radicalization of the youth, and therefore his death is a big blow to the country's efforts to stop religious extremism."
Opposed radical interpretations of jihad
Kenyan security analyst Martin Oloo told Deutsche Welle that the religious leader's death "does point to a lapse in security and it does point to incompetence."
64 year-old Idris preached in mosques that radical interpretations of jihad were wrong, and that Islam was a peaceful religion that did not encourage violence. He had also urged the government to arrest key financiers and radical preachers.
Deutsche Welle's correspondent in Mombasa Eric Ponda said his death was no doubt viewed by many as a revenge attack.
President Kenyatta extended his condolences to Kenya's Muslim community
Previous shootings of clerics have sparked riots but the city was reported calm on Tuesday.
In April, prominent hardline Muslim cleric Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, a rival of Idris, was shot dead.
Ahmed, better known as Makaburi, was a vocal supporter of Osama bin Laden and had described last year's attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabab fighters, as "100 percent justified."
In August 2012, radical preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed was also gunned down, sparking deadly riots, and in October last year his successor, Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail, met the same fate on a road near Mombasa.
Those earlier deaths did not lead to expressions of condolences from political leaders.
Kenya has been hit by a series of attacks since invading Somalia in 2011 to battle al-Shabab, later joining an African Union force battling the Islamists.
Last month several Western nations urged their nationals to avoid all but essential travel to Mombasa.
Author Mark Caldwell (AFP, AP)
Editor Susan Houlton