Kenyan protests lead to 400 arrests
Authorities move against supporters of extremist cleric
NAIROBI - Kenyan authorities said yesterday that they had arrested about 400 people in a crackdown on Muslim extremist sympathizers allegedly behind a protest demanding the release of an extremist Muslim cleric being detained in the East African country.
Seven people were charged with assaulting police officers during the deadly protest Friday. The leader of the group that organized the demonstration was arrested yesterday after attending the court hearing.
Kenyan Muslims criticized the actions taken by authorities, accusing the government of discrimination.
The detained cleric, Abdullah el-Faisal, once served four years in a British jail for inciting murder and stirring racial hatred by urging followers to kill Americans, Hindus, and Jews. British authorities say his teachings also heavily influenced one of the men who carried out the London bombings that killed 52 people.
El-Faisal, who was arrested in Kenya after preaching in local mosques, is being held because authorities here consider him a threat to national security. They unsuccessfully tried to deport the Jamaican-born cleric to the West African nation of Gambia.
On Friday, protesters gathered to call for his release. The Muslim Human Rights Forum says at least five people were killed when police shot at demonstrators, while the government says only one person died.
The seven Kenyans who appeared in court yesterday also were charged with unlawful assembly, stealing, and malicious damage to property. They pleaded not guilty to the charges and were released on bail.
Soon after, police arrested Al-Amin Kimathi, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum that organized Friday’s protest. Kimathi’s lawyer, Harun Ndubi, said he was shoved aside when he tried to ask why plainclothes police officers were arresting his client.
Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti has blamed Friday’s violence on sympathizers of al-Shabab, an extremist Islamic group based in neighboring Somalia. Saitoti said that claim was based on intelligence reports, but he has not offered any other details.
Police arrested about 400 people late Sunday in a crackdown on suspected al-Shabab sympathizers, according to Nairobi police chief Anthony Kibuchi.
Al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s weak government, and the US State Department has designated the group a terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda.
“We are removing these people who are creating problems,’’ Kibuchi said, indirectly referring to claims that al-Shabab sympathizers are also in Kenya.
Of the 400 arrested, 152 of them were to be charged later yesterday with being in the country illegally, Prosecutor Joseph Musyoka said. If found guilty, they could be fined more than $1,300 and deported immediately.
Kibuchi said police are still vetting more than 200 people who remain in their custody.
“I want to burn my identity card,’’ said Mohammed Abdul outside the magistrate’s court where his brother was among the 152 people to be charged. “As (Kenyan) Somali(s) we are being branded as al-Shabab or pirates. Is it because of our religion?’’
Muslims, who make up about 10 percent of Kenya’s population, have long complained about discrimination by successive governments and neglect of parts of the country where they form the majority.
A Somali diplomat in Nairobi, Mohamed Osman Aden, said 12 Somali lawmakers were among the 400 arrested Sunday. A Nairobi court released two of them after finding they were in the country legally.
Aden said the Somali Embassy has sent a protest letter to Kenya’s foreign ministry.