MOMBASA, Kenya: Kenyan police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Muslim youths rioting for a second day Monday in protest against a raid on a mosque used by firebrand preachers in the port city of Mombasa, a Reuters witness said.
The youths hurled rocks at the police and shouted, “release our brothers,” referring to more than 100 people arrested in the same run-down area of Majengo Sunday. Riot police patrolled the deserted streets after the unrest subsided.
Smashing Islamist recruitment networks among its Muslim minority has become a priority for Kenya, a country still reeling from a September raid by Somali militants on a luxury shopping mall in Nairobi. At least 67 people were killed.
Police official Simon Simiyu told a Mombasa court Monday the authorities planned to charge the 129 men with “being members of a terrorist group, namely Al-Shabab.”
It granted his request to detain them for five more days so authorities could finish their investigations.
Police stormed the Mussa mosque in Majengo Sunday after a tip that Muslim youths were being radicalized there by Islamists supporting Al-Shabab, Somali militants allied with Al-Qaeda.
Security sources say the mosque has been at the heart of Al-Shabab’s attempts to radicalize disillusioned young Kenyan Muslims in recently.
Kenya’s coastal region is heavily dependent on tourism, and occasional grenade attacks by Al-Shabab and rioting by angry youths are putting off foreign visitors.
Kenyan police said two protesters were killed Sunday but local human rights activists said five died in the clashes. A policeman was also critically wounded, a police source said.
Tensions on Kenya’s mainly Muslim coast have been running high in recent months following the assassinations of several Muslim clerics and Christian preachers.
In October, Muslim youths set fire to a Mombasa church after Islamist preacher Sheikh Ibrahim Omar died in a drive-by shooting some Muslims blamed on police. His mentor, Sheikh Aboud Rogo, was shot dead in 2012 in similar circumstances.
Both men used to preach at Mussa mosque.
Prior to his death, Rogo had been accused by United Nations investigators of sourcing funds and recruits for Al-Shabab, while Kenyan authorities charged him with terrorism-related offences. The United States had also frozen Rogo’s assets.
One local lawmaker said the heavy-handed tactics by the police would only lead to more anger, rebellion and violence.
“Radicalism cannot be eradicated by bullets and fire arms,” Abdul Swamad Sharrif Nassir, a parliamentarian from Mombasa, said. “The perception they are constantly sending is that this is a war against Muslims and not terrorists.”