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Police arrest 18 over mosque takeover

Friday, December 06, 2013

Police in Mombasa have arrested 18 radical Muslim youths following a wave of unrest targeting mosques.

They were detained after chaos broke out at the troubled Sakina Mosque on Wednesday evening.

The youth seized the mosque last Friday and threw out its imam, Sheikh Mohamed Idris and his ally Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa. The culprits were brought to court last evening but were not charged after police sought for time to complete investigation.

Security officials claimed that among the detainees were “militants trained in Somalia” and indicated that many could have secretly brought arms into Mombasa.

This is the latest episode in the growing tide of radical Islamism in Mombasa that involves forceful takeover of mosques by youths from mainstream imams accused of having links with the State.

Security officials in Mombasa said they were girding for trouble at Musa, Liwatoni, Umar Ibn al Khattab, Mbaruk and Sakina, which have either been seized or threatened by the youth.

A senior security officer told The Standard that police were planning to storm Musa Mosque where they believe the spate of radicalisation and takeovers were planned. Sources confirmed that the youth were plotting to retake the mosque where the slain radical cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo has followers.

At face value, the group appears to target mosques controlled by imams allied to the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) but on deeper analysis, “they appear to have a wider agenda,” according to Sheikh Mohamed Idris, CIPK’s national chairman. Although security authorities and moderate Muslims blame the problem on Al-Shabaab adherents, Hussein Khalid, the executive director of Haki Africa, a human rights agency, said the trouble is a reflection of youth disaffection with the “old guard”.

Khalid downplayed the role of jihadists or radicals, arguing that the rebellion is spurred by a desire for “generational change” in mainstream society and Muslim organisations. Mayhem Police officials have uttered conflicting figures of the youth in custody.

Yesterday, Coast police coordinator Aggrey Adoli said 20 youths were arrested, but Mombasa County police commander Robert Kitur put the number at 14 and added, “we are continuing to sort out the figure. Ten will be taken to court”. Kitur said some were set free after they were found to be innocent students.

Kitur addd the youth in custody were detained for inciting hatred against mainstream moderate imams and “spreading radicalism”, warning that “there is a force behind them”. Kitur noted police would launch an operation to retake Musa Mosque from radicals amid reports that six Islamists are behind the spate of takeovers.

Police besieged the mosque for close to four hours, blocking all entrances prompting the youth to lock themselves in and prevent reluctant participants from leaving.

Officers at the scene said the stakeout was taking long and inflaming tensions for no reasons. A senior police official at the scene blamed police headquarters in Nairobi for failing to issue firm orders.

“We were ordered to surround the mosque, not to storm it or arrest the masterminds of this mayhem,” said a disgruntled police officer, who argued senior officers are not interested in stemming the tide of radicalisation and takeover of mosques. –– Stanley Mwahanga, Patrick Beja and Ben Sanga.


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