MOMBASA: Kenya’s prime minister said yesterday the country’s enemies were behind the killing of a Muslim cleric that triggered riots he described as being conducted by an “underground organization” to create divisions between Christians and Muslims.
Aboud Rogo, accused by the United States of helping Al Qaeda-linked 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 neighboring Somalia last October to fight rebels.
Asked whether the violent reaction in the streets of Mombasa, which has a big Muslim minority, was organized 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 organized (reaction). Where did the grenades come from? It confirms our suspicions that there is a serious underground organization 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 sympathizers have already strained Muslim-Christian relations. Meanwhile, 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.”
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.
One more police officer died yesterday of wounds inflicted in the grenade blast. One person was killed when the riots broke out on Monday.