MOMBASA Kenya A Muslim preacher who condemned radical interpretations of Islam was shot dead near a mosque on Kenya's coast on Tuesday, a regional official said.
The coastal region, a tourist hub where most of Kenya's Muslims live, has also been hit by a spate of bomb attacks over the past months blamed on Islamists linked to Somalia's militant al Shabaab group.
Travel advisories by several Western countries have put the port city of Mombasa off-limits to many tourists.
Sheikh Mohammed Idris, chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), was killed by assailants at a mosque south of Mombasa as he went to morning prayers, Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa told reporters.
"He died on his way to hospital," the commissioner said. "Right now we cannot tell who is behind the killing but we have mounted investigations."
Sheikh Idris had previously chaired the committee of the Masjid Mussa mosque in Mombasa, a position he left when the mosque became the centre for radical preachers such as Aboud Rogo, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2012.
Two other radical preachers have also been gunned down since Rogo's death. Two of the three were accused by the United States and the U.N. Security Council of supporting al Shabaab. The police have yet to find their killers.
Supporters of those clerics have accused the police of extra-judicial killings, a charge the authorities deny.
The east African country, the region's largest economy, is still reeling from an al Shabaab attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September in which at least 67 people were killed.
Local media reported in December that Sheikh Idris and other clerics had escaped an attack by more than 100 youths who were repulsed by the police.
CIPK has openly condemned extremism and the radicalization of Muslim youths in Kenya. Rogo and other like-minded preachers had called CIPK officials "traitors" to their religion.
Kenya is trying to break up militant recruitment networks among its Muslim community in an effort to end attacks it blames on al Shabaab and its sympathisers who are bent on punishing Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight al Shabaab rebels.
Muslim activists have long complained that heavy-handed police tactics after militant attacks, including the mass round-up of suspects, have stoked anger in the Muslim community and undermined moderate preachers trying to counter radical ideas.
They also complain police have not done enough to offer protection when threats have been made.
“We have had several clerics killed before and many times these clerics have reported receiving direct threats ... but we have not seen the government take very decisive measures to protect them or find the killers,” said Ahmed Kassim, a former chief kadhi, or judge, in Kenya's Muslim court system.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by James Macharia)