4 February 2014

Kenya: State May Shut Down Mombasa Mosque

Photo: Bosire Boniface/Sabahi
Police made numerous arrests at the Masjid Mussa mosque.

The government yesterday said it was considering shutting down two mosques in Mombasa following Sunday's clash between Muslim youth and police.

Muslim leaders yesterday claimed that five were killed in the violence, not two as reported by the police. They accused police of using excessive force to arrest the youth who were allegedly holding jihad classes.

Uneasy calm returned to most parts of Mombasa yesterday, except for sporadic violence in a few areas such as Majengo, Guraya and Gulshan in the morning.

Yesterday 125 youth who were arrested on Sunday were arraigned in court and were remanded until February 7 to allow police to complete their investigations.

Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa chaired a stormy meeting at the Kenya Wildlife Service offices in Mombasa attended by the regional police commander, religious leaders, and political leaders.

He said the government may shut down the Masjid Musa and Masjid Sakina mosques which have been associated with extremist preaching and al Shabaab recruitment.

Tempers flared. Some leaders condemned police for using "excessive force to deal with children" as those arrested were mostly under 17 years. They were also angered by the application to hold the youths for five days during investigations.

At one point, Mombasa deputy governor Hazel Katana walked out of the KWS boardroom looking stressed as she walked around to cool off.

According to the police, the arrested youths were suspected al Shabaab members and were recruiting at the Masjid Musa mosque.

The youths, some as young as 10 years, appeared before senior principal magistrate James Omburah under heavy armed escort.

Prosecutor Peter Githoge told the magistrate that four other suspects were being treated at hospitals in Mombasa for injuries sustained during the protest. A total of 14 youths received gunshot injuries when police storm the mosque on Sunday.

Hundreds of anxious parents who thronged the Shanzu court but were barred at the gate under orders from the Mombasa county police commander Robert Kitur.

Abdulkarim Mohammed said that his two sons aged 9 and 12 were arrested at the Masjid Musa mosque where they had been invited to take lunch by their friends.

He said that his younger son had been beaten by the police and could not walk.

Only journalists and police officers were allowed into the court precincts inside the Shimo la Tewa prison.

CID officer Simon Simiyu applied to remand the suspects.

"We only arrested the suspects yesterday night and we are still yet to come up with charges. We need at least five days to closely investigate before we charge them in court," said Simiyu.

Simiyu said police officers received a tip off on an alleged jihad class and laid an ambush at the mosque which netted paraphernalia linking the group to al Shabaab.

The CID officer told the court the police would need five days to confirm the identities of the suspects.

"The investigations are complex. We ask for orders to interview the suspects. We will also need to take their DNA samples and profile each and every of the individual before we press the charges," said Simiyu.

Lawyer Dennis Aber, who represented two persons, opposed the application saying the police were violating their rights.

"One of those arrested is a sixteen year old boy at Aldna Visram school. He is just a form three student who needs to go back to class," said Aber.

"He's been subjected to mental torture. Any more detention will be detrimental to his well being and an embarrassment to his parents," he said.

At a press conference, a visibly angry Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir accused police of propagating terrorism by invading a holy place. He said most of those arrested were innocent 16 and 17-year-olds.

"There is absolutely no justification for what they did. You do not fight words with bullets," he said.

Haki Africa executive director Hussein Khalid said at least five Muslim youth were killed on Sunday. Two were killed on the spot while three died of bullet wounds at the Coast General Hospital.

"At least one youth was buried on Sunday evening. We can confirm that. But there are reports that about three others were buried on Sunday evening," Khalid said.

He said they counted four bodies with bullet wounds at the Coast General Hospital mortuary yesterday morning.

"We have begun the process of having the bodies released to their families for burial. We have managed to get permission from the families to have postmortems conducted on them to find out the cause of their death which we will release later," said Khalid.

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