Kenyan Bishops Reject FBI's Finding In American Priest's Death

By Julius Mokaya | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Nairobi ( - Church leaders in Kenya have rejected an FBI report concluding that an American Roman Catholic missionary found shot dead here last August had committed suicide.

Many believe the death of Father Antony Kaiser, active in human rights and civil liberty cases on behalf of the rural poor, may have been prompted by his outspoken criticism of the government.

His body was found alongside his truck, on the side of a road about 40 miles south of Nairobi, with his shotgun lying nearby.

A joint inquiry by FBI investigators and Kenyan police concluded late last month with the finding that the priest had shot himself in the head with his own weapon.

But Catholic and Protestant clergymen rejected the pronouncement, and have now called for a full inquest into the death, to allow witnesses to testify and be cross-examined in public.

The inquest should be held in Kenya or the U.S., they said, and investigators should be given access to all evidence in possession of the law enforcement agencies.

In a joint statement, church leaders said they had taken expert advice and were concerned about "the unprofessional and selective scene-of-crime evidence produced."

They said the FBI had relied upon the Kenyan police during the seven-month probe. The investigators had placed too much emphasis Kaiser's state of his mind in the last 96 hours of his life to back up the suicide theory, rather than follow other leads which would have led to his killers, they added.

"Why did the FBI ignore [the views of] three out of four doctors present at the examination of the corpse?" asked their spokesman, Bishop John Njue.

"It would appear in order to support the suicide proposition that Father Kaiser involved himself in rather difficult contortions while in the process of killing himself," he added.

The clerics pointed out that Kaiser himself had expressly rejected thoughts of suicide, while voicing fears for his safety.

The inquiry left "many reasons for concern and many unanswered questions," they said. Only fresh investigations would establish the truth.

Kaiser, 67, from Underwood, Minnesota, lived and worked in Kenya for 35 years, a member of the Mill Hill Order. He was an outspoken critic of President Daniel arap Moi and senior cabinet ministers.

When Kenya moved from a one-party state to a multi-party system in 1992, the country experienced its worst-ever ethnic clashes, in which hundreds of people died.

Critics claim that Moi's government instigated or tolerated the clashes to back its assertion that political pluralism would stir up tribal animosities in the country. Moi denied the accusations.

At one point Kaiser called for Moi to be prosecuted at a U.N. tribunal in The Hague for stirring up ethnic conflict in Kenya.

He also accused a cabinet officer in Moi's office of sexually abusing some of his young female parishioners.

Kaiser's friends said he believed in the weeks before his death that his life was under threat because of his human rights activities. Many of his Kenyan supporters claim his death was a politically-motivated murder.

At the time of his death, Kenyan police officers at the scene said they believed he had been killed.

FBI director Louis J. Freeh, who was in Kenya early this week, said the Bureau stood by the report and considered the investigation complete.

Freeh was visiting Kenya and Tanzania to thank the two countries for their roles in helping arrest suspects in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.