|ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Uhuru Kenyatta facilitated the attacks. [Reuters]
The International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution office has named six Kenyans, including the deputy prime minister and finance minister, for allegedly masterminding the country's worst post-independence bloodletting that claimed at least 1,200 lives.
Uhuru Kenyatta, the finance minister, and William Ruto, a former minister, had been widely suspected of involvement in the violence before The Hague-based ICC named them, according to Kenyan media.
Ruto had told Al Jazeera a day before the ICC announcement: "I will defend myself against any unfair treatment".
Announcing names of the suspects on Wednesday, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief ICC prosecutor, said that "members of the government also committed crimes".
"We identified two individuals. The first is Francis Muthaura," Moreno-Ocampo said.
He said Muthaura was chairman of the National Security Advisory Committee and that he authorised police to use excessive force against civilians in Kisumu and Kibera, Kenya's sprawling slum area.
Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from Nairobi, said Luis Moreno-Ocampo's move has "polarised opinion" in Kenya.
"There are those who support him for bringing justice to victims of post-election unrest, however, there are others who say he is playing politics," he said.
"This move is expected to have huge ramifications on Kenya's political platform."
'Shooting and killing'
"They were shooting and killing people [that] they didn't identify as supporters of the [opposition] Orange Democratic Party," said Moreno-Ocampo.
"The second tactic was to make an arrangement with Mungiki [a group said to be allied with Kenya's largest and most powerful Kikuyu tribe] and let them attack civilians."
He said the attacks were "facilitated by Kenyatta, who was the focal point between the Mungiki and the Party of National Unity (PNU)".
Kenyatta is a son of Kenya's independence leader, Jomo Kenyatta, and one of Kenya's most influential political figures.
Moreno-Ocampo said: "Mr Kenyatta's role was to facilitate the activities of Mungiki and Muthaura and to let them commit the crimes."
The prosecutor said the suspects "were still innocent" and that the ICC was still presenting the evidence before the judge decides.
A Kenyan journalist, Joshua Arap Sango, was also named among the key suspects "and he was involved in the planning of this operation," Moreno-Ocampo said.
Others suspects include Henry Kosgey, a former MP, and Mohammed Hussein Ali, the country's former police chief.
The Hague-based court took charge of trying key suspects following a disputed presidential election in December 2007.
The failure by the Kenyan government to set up a local tribunal last year in line with agreements that ended the chaos paved the way for the ICC to seek to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Earlier this month, the prosecutor said he had wrapped up his investigations and was going to ask the ICC judges to issue summonses for the suspects.
Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from The Hague, said "it will be a process that could last weeks and the judges will return early in the new year to follow up on those summonses".
"They can issue arrest warrants [and] there are concerns that there could be a backlash of violence in Kenya ... but here the situation for the prosecutor is straightforward," Simmons said.
"He says that if they do not voluntarily come to The Hague to appear before the court, he will then issue arrest warrants."
Although Kenya has repeatedly assured the ICC prosecutor of its co-operation, Wednesday's announcement appears to have rattled the political class.
In a knee-jerk reaction, the government announced it was launching a local investigation.
"Kenya's national interests of peace and security, political stability, national reconciliation and comprehensive justice for all victims of post-election violence cannot be achieved without a local judicial mechanism," a statement from president's office said on Monday.
"Consequently, irrespective of what transpires at the ICC on Wednesday 15th December, 2010 and in view of the fact that ICC is only a court of last resort, the government will establish a local judicial mechanism ..."
But observers said the planned tribunal could not be taken seriously, pointing out that legislators twice thwarted efforts to form the tribunal.
Mwalimu Mati of the Kenyan anti-graft watchdog Mars Group said: "I don't believe that Kenyans are taking it very seriously because they know it would take a while to actually pass the law to make this court a reality.
"Kenyans are hoping that we will see some level of accountability especially for the high-level masterminds who in Kenya's past have always enjoyed political impunity," he said.
Kenya will be the ICC's fourth African case after Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army top rebels whose charges mainly concern genocide crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ICC, which started operating in the Hague in 2002, is the world's only independent, permanent tribunal with the jurisdiction to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Kenya was plunged into its worst post-independence violence after the December 27, 2007 general elections in which then opposition chief Odinga accused Kibaki of rigging his re-election.
What began as political riots soon turned into ethnic killings targeting President Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, who then launched reprisal attacks in which homes were torched, people hacked to death and at least 600,000 forced to flee their homes.
The violence was brought to an end after Kibaki and Odinga agreed to work in a power-sharing government under a deal brokered by former UN chief Kofi Annan.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies