MOMBASA, Kenya: Gunfire erupted in and around a mosque in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa Sunday following a raid by armed police who had received a tipoff that Muslim youths were being radicalized and trained for militant attacks.
The raid sparked violent protests inside the Masjid Mussa mosque in the city’s run-down Majengo neighborhood and in the surrounding streets.
Police fired tear gas and live rounds over the heads of taunting crowds, who hurled stones back.
A reporter at the scene saw police shoot and kill one person as they tried to disperse a growing crowd screaming “Allahu akbar” outside the mosque.
A police officer who was stabbed in the face later died of his wounds, said Mombasa police head Robert Kitur. Another police officer was stabbed in the stomach and is being treated at a local hospital, he said.
Breaking up Islamist militant networks among its Muslim minority has become a priority for Kenya as it tries to end attacks by Somali militants and their sympathizers bent on punishing it for sending troops to fight Al-Shabab rebels.
The cost of failure was laid bare when Al-Shabab gunmen attacked a Nairobi shopping mall in September, killing at least 67 people. Western investigators said local militant networks helped the attackers carry out the assault.
“They attacked our mosque, but they’re not going to kill our spirit,” one youth shouted from behind a wall in the mosque’s compound.
More than four hours after the initial police swoop, gunshots continued to echo around the neighborhood of ramshackle buildings and garbage-filled gutters.
Kitur said the raid followed a tipoff. When his officers burst into the mosque, where radical imams regularly preach, they came under gunfire.
Kitur said ringleaders shielded themselves behind children and infants, the first time he had seen such a tactic used.
“We found them engaging in radicalization and training of youths,” Kitur told reporters close to the mosque as the operation went on.
He added security forces arrested over 100 people during clashes.
Police seized black banners emblazoned with jihadist slogans, laptops and DVDs during the raid. Outside the mosque, shoes, tear gas canisters and spent bullet cartridges were strewn on the ground.
Many Muslims in Mombasa’s poorer neighborhoods feel marginalized by the predominantly Christian Nairobi government, while the forceful crackdown on Islamist militant recruitment networks in the tourist hub is fueling resentment.