Stone-throwing youths have clashed with the police in the Kenyan city of Mombasa, Kenya’s second biggest city, in a second day of violence prompted by the killing of a Muslim religious leader accused by the US of helping fighters in Somalia.
Police fired tear gas and warning shots on Tuesday as youths barricaded streets with burning tyres in the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Majengo.
Youth also threw a grenade at a police truck, wounding 16 police officers, two of them critically.
Mobs moved around Mombasa’s city centre, taunting police who arrested some of the protesters, who are members of the city’s Muslim minority.
Shopkeepers reported looting in some areas of Mombasa, a tourist hub and major Indian Ocean port.
The unrest began after armed men killed Aboud Rogo Mohamed on Monday, spraying his car with bullets in an attack many Muslims in Mombasa blamed on the police, who denied involvement.
Rogo was the spiritual leader of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC), a group viewed as a close ally of Somalia’s armed Islamist group, al-Shabab.
One person was killed in riots on Monday when protesters torched some churches, raising fears that the unrest may become more sectarian in a city where grenade attacks blamed on Somali fighters and their sympathisers have already strained Muslim-Christian relations.
“This kind of violence goes against our faith. The protesters shouldn’t hide behind Islam or any of its teachings“
– Adan Wachu, secretary-general
Police and Muslim leaders had described the church burnings as impulsive, not premeditated. On Tuesday, the gangs of youths appeared to focus their anger more on the police.
Church leaders scrapped plans for a peaceful march for fear it might incite further clashes in a country where overall relations with minority Muslims have been relatively good.
The Supreme Council of Muslims in Kenya condemned the violence, especially the targeting of churches.
“This kind of violence goes against our faith. The protesters shouldn’t hide behind Islam or any of its teachings,” Adan Wachu, the council’s secretary-general, said. “These are criminals and should be treated as such.”
Kenyan police appealed on Tuesday to the public for information on Rogo’s killing. Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, has condemned the “horrific” murder, adding the government was “committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice”.
Rogo had been accused by the UN of using the MYC group as “a pathway for radicalisation and recruitment of principally Swahili-speaking Africans for carrying out violent militant activity in Somalia”.
He is also alleged to have introduced Fazul Abdullah Mohammed – the late head of al-Qaeda’s East Africa cell, shot dead last year in Somalia’s war-torn capital Mogadishu – to at least one of the men who helped him carry out the twin US embassy bombings in 1998.
The bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed 224 people.
Al-Shabab, for its part, urged Kenyan Muslims on Tuesday to protect their religion at all costs and boycott next year’s presidential election. It condemned what it called a “witch-hunt” against Muslims by the Kenyan authorities.
“Muslims must take the matter into their own hands, stand united against the kuffar [non-believers] and take all necessary measures to protect their religion, their honour, their property and their lives from the enemies of Islam,” al-Shabab said in a statement posted on the social media site Twitter.
The violence could worsen if it taps into long-standing local grievances over land ownership and unemployment, as well as calls by the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) for the coastal strip to secede.
The MRC said it was not involved in the unrest.
Prolonged trouble in Mombasa could hit Kenya’s vital tourism industry, already damaged by the kidnappings of female Western tourists from beach resorts by Somali fighters.
The unrest could also knock trade and transport to Kenya’s landlocked neighbours. Rwanda and Uganda rely on the Mombasa port for imports of food, consumer goods and fuel.