30 September 2006

Kenya: Muslims in Demo Over Terror Suspects' Arrests

Nairobi — Hundreds of Muslims swarmed Nairobi streets after their Friday special prayers to press for the disbandment of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit.

The demo was largely peaceful, except for the burst of a teargas canister police lobbed at the protesters, who expressed bitterness with what they said was harassment of Muslims. They were specifically irked by the arrest of businessman, Mr Ali Jama Ali, in connection with last week's grenade attack on eight police officers at a roadblock in Westlands.

Members of the unit are holding Ali for interrogations. He was arrested on Tuesday after he went to report to police that the gunmen, who injured eight officers, had shot him.

The teargas incident took place as the mob, identifiable in their flowing dazzling white dress and marching fez, surged towards Vigilance House.

The demonstrators refused to budge even as their leaders went to the entrance of police headquarters and handed a protest note to the Police Commissioner. They issued a seven-day ultimatum to the Maj-Gen Hussein Ali to disband the unit or they would paralyse operations in the city.

"We give him seven days to disband the unit and release all Muslims being detained in connection with terror activities," said one of their spokesmen.

The protestors, estimated at 2,000, also asked that the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi's Upper hill area be relocated, claiming its agents were harassing the public.

Close to 600 officers were mobilised to keep the protesters in check. They cordoned off the embassy in Upper Hill area following the protesters' threats that they would also take a protest note there.

In the memo, which was received by Ali's deputy Mr Lawrence Mwadime, the protesters claimed ATPU officials, were harassing them in the name of investigation and demanded that the practice stops.

The police ringed the streets they used. They formed a buffer zone near Harambee Avenue.

The antiriot officers demanded that they hand them the notice at the site and end their march.

And after presenting the note to Mwadime, the crowd returned to the Jamia Mosque peacefully. The protest caused a heavy traffic jam in the city.

A hunt for more suspects has spread to Isiolo as another team intensified its investigation in Eastleigh estate.

The protesters also demanded that businessman Ali be released.

The officers were manning a roadblock when they were shot at and attacked with a grenade. Some are still in hospital.

Investigations have so far showed that the close to 100 live bullets that were recovered from the scene were not manufactured locally.

"Even the grenades do not belong to the Kenyan military or the General Service Unit. The suspect is still under interrogation," said an officer.

Police believe the gunmen were on an assassination mission.

On his part, businessman Ali said he was carjacked by the gunmen who shot and dumped him along Forest Road before they proceeded to Westlands.

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