Six people, including a 10-year old, have been killed in a firefight between police officers and suspected robbers in Nairobi, Kenya's capital city.
|A movement that began in the 1980s has |
for many turned into an underworld gang
So far this year, more than 300 people have been shot dead across the country.
Mohammed Adow reports from Kenya on a wave of violence that is being blamed on the Mungiki, a quasi-political religious sect that many say is closer to a criminal gang.
Robert Kiunjuri, a 45 year old farmer, was terrified when members of the Mungiki sect recently struck his village. They left the severed head of one of their victims in his compound.
He said: "I found the head right here, right on top of the chicken pen.
"You can see the blood."
Kiunjuri's neighbours in Kianjogu village, in central Kenya, share his concerns about the sect, which has been accused of a number of grisly killings across Kenya.
Mohammed Adow, reporting from Kinanjogu, said the village market was "deserted".
He said: "Since the killings the village has been almost empty."
What began as a religious movement in the late 1980s has for many turned into an intimidating underworld gang.
Mutuma Ruteere, a Mungiki researcher, told Al Jazeera that the original Mungiki had all but disappeared, but that a new, more violent Mungiki had taken their place.
The government will do everything possible as mandated by the law to wipe them out
"Mungiki has several faces ... there is a political Mumbiki, which has been associated with elections. They have vigilantes for political hire during elections."
Followers of the Mungiki were once better known for tobacco-sniffing and their trademark dreadlocks. The sect rejected "westernisation" and challenged Kenya's government.
But when Adow met four Mungiki leaders on the outskirts of Nairobi, he found they had traded their dreadlocks for neat haircuts and business suits.
They denied being involved in any criminal activity and bragged instead about being a formidable organisation with nearly three million followers across the country.
Joe Waiganjo, who styles himself as one of the Mungiki's "executive officers", said: "We can say we are present to a percentage of around 15-20 per cent in the country."
He said that said among the members of the Mungiki "there are a number of ministers and a number of assistant ministers".
"Wipe them out"
The Kenyan government has in the past cracked down on members of the sect.
The sect has accused the police of being heavy-handed in its dealings with the Mungiki, but they have only succeeded in driving the sect further underground.
John Michuki, Kenya's internal security minister, told Al Jazeera: "The government will do everything possible as mandated by the law to wipe them out."
But so far the government is a long way from making good on that promise.
Back in Kianjogu the villagers are united in grief. They bury one of the dead and long for the day they will be allowed to live in peace.