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Vigilante ‘death squads’ using Facebook & Twitter to hunt gang suspects in Kenya

Vigilante ‘death squads’ using Facebook & Twitter to hunt gang suspects in Kenya
Reports have emerged of Kenyan vigilante groups using Facebook and Twitter to hunt down and summarily execute young men suspected of being gang members, before posting gruesome content of the aftermath online.

“They profile them on Facebook, after one week or a month they shoot them, and put pictures of their dead bodies on Facebook,” Wilfred Olal from the Dandora Community Justice Centre told a community meeting. An average of six suspected gangsters are profiled and killed each month.

The disturbing photos and videos are incredibly graphic, showing close-ups of heads cleaved open by bullets, desecrated corpses, and the aftermath of ‘necklacing’ – a gruesome practice in which a rubber tire filled with petrol is wrapped around a live victim’s chest and arms before being set on fire.

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“The first unofficial police Facebook account appeared under the name Hessy wa Kayole [Hessy from Kayole],” Duncan Omanga, a researcher at Moi University in Kenya said, adding: “Hessy became the shadowy crime-hunter, the mystical lone ranger.”

One group boasts almost 63,000 members and has a motto which reads: “Forgiving a terrorist is left to God, but fixing their appointment with God is our responsibility.” Group members often try to one-up each other while commenting and laughing about the extreme violence shared on the page.

In one post, a gang member shared a photo of himself posing with others from the gang while brandishing an AK47 semi-automatic rifle, before later deleting it. The image had already been shared across social media, and each person pictured was summarily executed one by one. The group photo then reappeared online several times, each time with one more face struck off.

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Human rights groups claim they have also been targeted by these vigilantes, and have repeatedly called on Facebook to remove the offending content.

“We recognise that we have a responsibility to fight abuse on our platform and we are working hard with partners on the ground, including civil society organisations, to better understand local issues and tackle them more effectively,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Our investigation into this issue is ongoing.”

At time of writing, the content is still widely available on Facebook.

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