- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya An FBI team investigating the murder of an American priest is looking into evidence that two assassins followed the priest for days before hijacking his truck on a deserted road and killing their victim, according to Kenya's leading newspaper.

Observers see the killing as the latest in a long line of political assassinations that have attempted to silence critics of the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party.

New leads in the case suggest what Kenyans have suspected from the start that those who murdered the Rev. John Kaiser received their orders from prominent enemies of the priest with possible government links.

According to the Daily Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper, one of the leads investigated by the FBI team working on the murder involves two assassins who followed the priest for days before aggressively blocking his truck on a deserted road. The sources of this information remain unidentified.

Police sources have said that gloved hit men interrogated Father Kaiser in a nearby forest before driving him to a side road, where they used his own shotgun to shoot him at close range.

Evidence from the murder site, about 50 miles outside the capital, showed that the priest's white truck was driven through dense growth, and was scraped by a blue vehicle. The Daily Nation has reported that the hit men were paid $25,000 for the job, though the paper was vague about its sourcing.

Recent reports in the paper quoted a gas station attendant in the village of Naivasha who saw the priest the night he was killed. The attendant, who recorded a statement with the FBI team, witnessed two men following Father Kaiser into the station and greeting him before driving toward Nairobi.

Father Kaiser left in the opposite direction, toward the town of Nakuru, but his body was found that night only a few miles away from the station.

Paul Omuga, a watchman on duty at Kenya Nut Co., also talked to the FBI after witnessing a car make three late-night trips past the company gate, which lies 100 yards from the murder site. These accounts may not shed real light on the unsolved murder, but they do deepen the mystery.

The public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy, Thomas Hart, neither confirmed nor denied the reported FBI leads.

"We know that Father Kaiser died a violent death," he said, "but for now we are waiting for the FBI team to complete their investigations." The official said that the murder has not affected U.S. policy toward Kenya, with U.S. government aid to the country this year likely to be about $80 million, similar to the 1999 figure.

Local detectives have teamed with the FBI agents flown in from the United States, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, meanwhile, pledged last month to monitor the investigation into Father Kaiser's death after a senator expressed reservations about the Kenya government's integrity.

Mr. Hart said the embassy does not, however, view the murder as a political assassination.

"There is no doubt that in the minds of the local body politic, there is that link," said Mr. Hart. "We don't assume that the link has been established."

During Father Kaiser's funeral at Nairobi's packed Holy Family Basilica, activists gathered outside the church to accuse "senior government officials" of complicity in the murder.

University students later took to the streets waving placards that read, "Rise up against tyrants now! Killers of Father Kaiser are assassins of truth and liberty!"

What could not be said in public was handwritten on the placards: On one, "Moi" and "Sunkuli" were scrawled above the word "tyrants," a reference to President Daniel arap Moi and his Cabinet minister Julius ole Sunkuli, who has been battling charges of rape.

The speeches that day and commentaries on the murder have been riddled with references to the numerous political assassinations Kenya has seen. Politicians like Robert Ouko and clerics like Bishop Alexander Muge met with mysterious deaths, many say for voicing anti-KANU sentiments.

An independent investigation into the murder of Mr. Ouko, a former foreign minister, by Scotland Yard implicated a senior government official and Moi confidant, Nicholas Biwott, but as yet no one has been charged with the decade-old murder. Some observers predict the problems that beset Scotland Yard will challenge the FBI team.

Thirty-four Catholic leaders said last month that the government is not above suspicion in the Kaiser murder, evoking an angry response from Mr. Moi.

"Why should I hide anything or anybody if the government had something to do with [the murder]?" the president asked upon his return from the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York.

From the day of Father Kaiser's death, speculation was rife that a rape case involving Mr. Sunkuli, which the priest had researched, was central to the murder. In the case, filed in May, the minister's cousin accused him of raping her repeatedly on his office floor.

Friends of Father Kaiser say he was getting ready to take to court three new cases of defilement by an unnamed "senior Cabinet minister."

Mr. Sunkuli's cousin dropped her case the day after the priest's funeral.

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