After cleric killing, Muslim youths’ anger boils over in Kenya

 
UPDATE (Friday August 29):
 
Kenyan police have blamed Somalia's Al-Shebab for killing Aboud Rogo Mohammed.
 
ORIGINAL STORY:
 
The killing of a controversial Muslim cleric has sparked two days of violent clashes between police and protesters in Mombasa, Kenya’s second biggest city. But according to our Observer there, the rioters are angry about much more than this latest incident.
 
Aboud Rogo Mohammed, popularly known as Rogo, was shot dead by unknown assailants while he was driving with his family in Mombasa on Monday. Rogo was accused by the United States, the United Nations and the Kenyan government of having ties to Al-Shabaab, the Somalian terrorist group that is linked to Al-Qaeda and has been outlawed in Kenya.
 
Following news of his death, hundreds of angry youths took to the streets of Mombasa, setting up roadblocks with flaming tyres, looting shops, and clashing with police. One person was reportedly killed on Monday, and at least two, including one policeman, were killed in a grenade attack on Tuesday. The Supreme Council of Muslims in Kenya condemned this violence.
 
According to human rights groups, Rogo is the fifth alleged Muslim extremist who has been killed or has disappeared in just four months in Kenya. This has led some in the country’s Muslim community, which makes up 10 percent of the population, to accuse the police of taking part in extra-judicial killings. Back in 2009, a UN investigator had already accused Kenyan police of using death squads. The Kenyan government has repeatedly denied such accusations.
 
Rogo had been charged in January with possession of a cache of guns, ammunition and detonators. Back in 2005, he was acquitted of murder charges related to the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa, in which 12 people were killed.
 
Al-Shabaab has indicated that it plans to carry out a major attack on Kenya’s capital Nairobi in retaliation for the country sending its troops into Somalia to fight the group.
 
Mourners gather around Aboud Rogo Mohammed's body as he is prepared for burial. Video published on YouTube.
Contributors

“There’s the feeling that the government has just decided to call ‘terrorist’ any cleric with a fundamentalist approach to preaching”

Hassan Mwachili, 23, is a university student who lives in Ukanda, just south of Mombasa. He currently commutes to Mombasa for his summer job.
 
On Monday, I performed my afternoon prayers at Sparki mosque, near where I work. I noticed that a group of my fellow worshippers had gathered outside the mosque, but I didn’t ask what was happening. As I walked to work, I logged in to Facebook on my phone and saw that Sheikh Aboud Rogo had been shot – it was then that I realised why there had been such tension in the air.
 
I then saw some commotion at Saba Saba junction, which is quite traffic-heavy. I noticed that the shops were closed. Shop owners told me that a group of men – mostly youths – who had been demonstrating over the sheikh’s death had suddenly started looting shops and vandalising them in anger. By this time the youths were a way further down the road; I could see smoke rising from afar. A group of shop owners then decided that they should retaliate, and were about to head toward the demonstrators when the police came and forced them to disperse.
 
Photo taken by our Observer of the crowd gathered at Saba Saba junction.
 
Today, we’ve heard that rioters have torched churches in other parts of the city; this is sad, as Islam does not encourage violence.
 
The sheikh was a very popular person, famous because he produced videos of his lectures. He stayed popular even after he was linked to the bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi in 1998 and the bombing of the Israeli-owned hotel in Kikambala. Because there was never any conclusive evidence, most Muslims here didn’t believe these accusations at all, but rather believed that this was just America talking, and that the Kenyan police didn’t really know anything.
 
“There is laxity in protecting Muslims’ rights in Kenya”
 
The youths' anger is multi-faceted. There is the feeling that Muslims are unjustly targeted, that the government has just decided to call “terrorist” any cleric with a fundamentalist approach to preaching. What angers them even more is that those who are arrested never get fair trials here in Kenya. Case in point is the extradition to Uganda of suspected terrorists in the 2010 Kampala bombing.
 
And then there are the disappearances. Samir Khan [not to be confused with Samir ibn Zafar Khan, the former Pakistani American editor of Al-Qaeda’s magazine], an imam at Sparki mosque, was abducted and found dead, his body mutilated, just a few months ago. [Khan was close to Rogo, and was also accused of having links to terrorism]. I was in Nairobi at the time, and never heard him preach. But this shocked many people, and the authorities never gave any answers about what happened. The lack of answers in all these matters is what has led the anger to explode.
 
I personally feel, like many Muslims here, that there is laxity in protecting Muslims’ rights in Kenya. People need to be given fair trials before being branded terrorists.
 
Shops at Saba Saba junction shut down after rioting youth attacked the stores. The sign above the stores in the photo has been vandalised. Photo by our Observer.

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