Kenya PM blames riots on nation's foes

2012-08-29 13:55
Kenyan paramilitary police walk past burning tyres in Mombasa during a second day of clashes after the killing of an extremist cleric linked to al-Qaeda-allied Shebaab militants. (AFP)

Kenyan paramilitary police walk past burning tyres in Mombasa during a second day of clashes after the killing of an extremist cleric linked to al-Qaeda-allied Shebaab militants. (AFP)

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Mombasa - Kenya's prime minister said on Wednesday the country's enemies were behind the killing of a Muslim cleric that triggered riots he described as being conducted by an "underground organisation" to create divisions between Christians and Muslims.

Aboud Rogo, accused by the United States of helping al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in Somalia, was facing charges in a Kenyan court of possessing weapons when he was shot in his car by unknown attackers in Mombasa on Monday.

His death unleashed two days of riots in which five people, including three police officers, were killed.

A measure of calm has returned to Kenya's second-biggest city, a tourist hub and major Indian Ocean port, as anti-riot police armed with wooden batons, teargas and automatic rifles patrolled its busy streets.


"We suspect the hand of the enemies of our country in this, those who want to create religious animosity," Prime Minister Raila Odinga told reporters after addressing religious leaders in the city.

"It is an attempt to try create a division between Christians and Muslims in our country so that it appears it is a religious war."

He said Kenya had many enemies, including abroad, after it sent troops into neighbouring Somalia last October to fight Islamist militants.

Asked whether the violent reaction in the streets of Mombasa, which has a big Muslim minority, was organised or just a spontaneous outpouring of anger the prime minister said: "Certainly, that is what it looks like."

"Why deliberately attack churches? That must be part of an organised [reaction]. Where did the grenades come from? It confirms our suspicions that there is a serious underground organisation conducting this," he said.

Rioters set fire to at least six churches, stoking fears that the unrest may become more sectarian in a city where grenade attacks blamed on Somali militants and their sympathisers have already strained Muslim-Christian relations.

Churches burnt

The National Council of Churches of Kenya, said in a statement it had followed with "growing trepidation" the increasing attacks on Christians and churches.

"The violence appears well planed, pre-meditated, and systematic. In the last five months alone, 11 churches have been attacked while attempts were made on others," the group's general-secretary, Peter Karanja, said.

"Christians have been killed, injured or maimed for life. We see this as an intentional provocation of Christians to retaliate."

On Tuesday, mobs of youths fired machineguns at police in Kisauni, a predominantly Muslim area, just before throwing a grenade into a police truck, police said. Two Kenyan police officers and a civilian were killed instantly.

Killings, arrests

One more police officer died on Wednesday of wounds inflicted in the grenade blast. One person was killed when the riots broke out on Monday.

Some 24 people arrested during the riots were charged in a Mombasa court On Wednesday for assembling illegally and they were remanded in custody for five days.

Police said they were likely to add more charges of arson and destruction of property.

Residents, however, accused the police of being heavy-handed, especially in Majengo, another neighbourhood with a large Muslim population that had been one of the flashpoints of violence. Locals were ordered by police to stay in their houses.

"It is getting better, but police should stop intimidating people. I closed my shop the whole of yesterday. Today am open but still very careful. I hear any noise I close immediately," said Margaret Mumo, owner of a chemist shop at Sabasaba, near Majengo.

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