Special for Africa ExPress
Nairobi, 3rd February 2014
More than a hundred men have appeared in court on Monday in the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa. They all stand accused of being members of the terrorist organization al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda’s. They were arrested on Sunday after police broke up an alleged “jihadist forum” at a mosque in Majengo, Mombasa’s largest slum.
Kenya’s law enforcement and military remain on high alert following intelligence reports that another terror attack in the country could be imminent, and have been cracking down on suspected al-Shabab recruitment. Police said that the Masjid Musa Mosque was under the control of Islamist militants, some of whom had been trained by al-Shabab in Somalia and returned to Kenya in hope of carrying out terror attacks.
One hundred and twenty-nine people were arrested in the aftermath of a raid that saw riot police confront youths armed with guns, machetes, knives and steel bars and left at least one police officer and another person dead. Police say the officer died after he was hit on the head with a blunt object, and repeatedly slashed in the neck. Another officer is in critical condition after being stabbed in the abdomen.
The police used tear gas and stun grenades to take control of the four-story building and only found the gravely wounded officer after the raid was over.
There were reports that the mosque’s occupants used the minaret’s loudspeakers in an attempt to trick the assailants into thinking they had taken a hostage. “We are holding a hostage and will decapitate him if the police do not leave the mosque,” they reportedly threatened.
Some of the Mosque’s occupants claimed the attack by the police was unprovoked. Khalid Hussein, an official with Haki Africa, a local human rights NGO, criticized the police operation for its brutality. “There was no need for excessive force and the police should have restrained themselves to avoid bloodshed,” he said.Mombasa MP Hassan Omar said on Monday the attack on the Musa Mosque was “unwarranted and unjustified.”
“We do not share in and strongly rejected the excesses of government in dealing with the so-called extremism and radicalization of Muslim youth. Strategies of the government only lead to further anger and achieve the opposite [of what they are intended to,]” Omar stated.
But Mombasa police criminal investigations chief Henry Ondieki was adamant the Masjid Musa Mosque was being used as a forward operating base by extremists. “This is not a mosque for prayers but a base for recruiting Muslim youths to engage in terrorist activities,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Nation newspaper.
Black banners associated with al-Shabab were hung outside the mosque, and residents of several Mombasa neighborhoods, including Majengo, reported being handed leaflets exhorting aspiring jihadists to take part in Sunday’s gathering.
Riots broke out in the aftermath of the police operation as Muslims took to the streets to protest against the brutality of police operations, blocking traffic in the city center throughout Sunday evening. Eyewitnesses said one man was shot dead as police tried to bring a mob outside the besieged mosque under control.
Kenya has been under pressure by Western powers to halt the expansion of jihadist groups in the country since al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi last September, in which almost seventy people—many of them Westerners—were killed.