Mombasa, Reuters—Kenyan police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Muslim youths rioting for a second day on 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 on 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 during that attack.
Police official Simon Simiyu told a Mombasa court on Monday the authorities plan to charge the 129 men with “being members of a terrorist group, namely Al-Shabaab”.
It granted his request to keep them in detention for five days more for authorities to finish their investigations.
Police stormed the Mussa mosque in Majengo on Sunday after a tip that Muslim youths were being radicalized there by Islamists supporting Al-Shabaab, Somali militants allied with Al-Qaeda.
Security sources say the mosque has been at the heart of Al-Shabaab’s attempts to radicalize disillusioned young Kenyan Muslims in recent years. Officers came under fire as they burst into the mosque, said police who seized laptops, DVDs and black banners emblazoned with jihadi slogans there.
Kenya’s coastal region is heavily dependent on tourism and occasional grenade attacks by Al-Shabaab and rioting by angry youths are putting off foreign visitors.
Kenyan police said two protesters were killed on 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 cleric 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-Shabaab while Kenyan authorities charged him with terrorism-related offenses. 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, told journalists. “The perception they are constantly sending is that this is a war against Muslims and not terrorists.”
Kenyan police, however, deny brutality and say they are tackling a major threat to national security.
In Nairobi, four Somali men were charged on Monday with possessing explosives and attempting to commit a terrorist act at the city’s main international airport, where a blast rocked a small coffee shop but caused no injuries.
Kenyan police believe the four men are part of a “vast terrorist network” in the country and had planned to attack government buildings and foreign establishments, an anti-terrorism police inspector said in court papers seen by Reuters.