Kenya's Internal Security Minister George Saitoti, who planned to run for the presidency next year, has been killed along with six others in a police helicopter crash into a forest just outside the capital, Nairobi.
The Associated Press cited Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as saying Saitoti and his assistant, Orwa Ojode, were among those killed, while an AP reporter saw the victims' charred remains scattered at the crash site in a forest.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who traveled to the scene, said Saitoti's death was a "great tragedy that has befallen our country at this time as we are making elaborate preparations to hold peaceful elections."
Saitoti, an American-trained economist and mathematician, served as vice president of Kenya to former President Daniel Arap Moi, and was closely allied with President Mwai Kibaki.
He was one of the country's most high-profile politicians, having held the portfolios of finance minister, education minister and national planning minister, Bloomberg wrote.
More from GlobalPost: Somalia: Al Shabaab loses more ground
He was also a leading voice against Somali militants al Shabaab, and was often pictured visiting the scenes of grenade attacks, vowing the government would crush the group, Reuters reported.
Kenyan troops were sent to fight al Shabaab in neighboring Somalia last October, a decision articulated and defended by Saitoti as security minister.
However, the crash was being treated as an accident, Odinga said.