Nairobi — Kenya's government was warned by Muslim clerics about the radicalisation and recruitment of youths by Al-Shabaab six years ago but did not take action, says Sheikh Ahmed, a management committee member of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.
The state, he told IPS, dismissed the reports as a rift between Muslim clerics and failed to arrest senior preachers who openly give sermons calling on youths to fight believers of other religions and attack places of worship.
"At the beginning it was our problem but not now. This group [of extremists] has taken over the management of mosques. In Mombasa, the police are helping us repossess two mosques seized by the radical agents of violence," said Ahmed.
On Wednesday Apr. 23, four people, including two policemen, died in a terror attack on Kenya when bombers drove a vehicle into a police station in the capital, Nairobi.
It was the latest in a spate of terror attacks in this East African nation. Last September, Kenya experienced the worst terror attack in years when gunmen from the Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab, attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.
But the Apr. 23 attack was seen as retaliation against the ongoing countrywide crackdown on illegal immigrants and refugees suspected of being affiliated with Al-Shabaab.
Nuur Sheikh, an expert on conflict in the Horn of Africa, believes harassment and forced repatriation is likely to incite acute hatred against Kenya and entice more youth to join the Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group.
"This operation strategy is counter-productive. The government's decision to take this route has provoked anger. Somalis, whether from Kenya or from Somalia, and the Muslim community have suffered brutal police actions.
"This suits Al-Shabaab propaganda and alienates a community that can help fight terrorism," Sheikh said in a phone interview with IPS.
Tensions have flared between Kenya and Somalia after Kenyan police arrested a Somali diplomat on Friday, Apr. 25. Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement that his government was concerned about the arrest of law-abiding Somalis. Somalia has reportedly recalled its ambassador to Kenya.
According to local reports, police have arrested more than 4,000 Somalis and deported some 200 illegal immigrants. On Apr. 9 the first group of arrestees, consisting of 82 Somalis without legal refugee status, were deported. Last week, 91 more Somalis without valid documents were repatriated.
Executive director of the Muslim for Human Rights Forum, Al-Amin Kimathi, told IPS that the current operation was discriminatory and punished communities who have suffered the brunt of Al-Shabaab's terrorism. He said it disrupted livelihoods, instilled fear and demonised the Somali and Muslim communities.
Police spokesperson Masood Mwinyi denied this.
"Its wrong and misleading to suggest only one community or one religious group is being targeted, we have also arrested Pakistani, Chinese and Indians and other illegal aliens from neighbouring states," Mwinyi told IPS.
Ahmed Mohamed, secretary general of the Eastleigh business community, told IPS more than 75 percent of major businesses selling textiles, electronics, money transactions, restaurants and guest houses have been closed. The operation is mostly focused on Nairobi's Eastleigh suburb, where a large population of Somalis reside.
An official from the Ethiopia Ogaden Refugees Association said on condition of anonymity that 14 people from Ogaden region in Ethiopia have been deported.
They all requested deportation to Somalia and not Ethiopia. Since the 1991 fall from power of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ogaden National Liberation Front intellectuals have fought for an independent state there and tensions remain between the Ogaden and Ethiopia.
"We must be exempted, our case, our status is different. We are Somalis but from Ethiopia. Any Ogaden deported to Ethiopia will be killed. No doubt, repatriating our people to a foreign country is terrible, wrong," he said in an interview with IPS.
An Ethiopian who escaped his country after a series of arrests and threats on his life vowed he would never return home or to the camps of Somali refugees.
"We have suffered, we have been harassed here by police, the camps are not safe for us either. We are always threatened because Ethiopia's troops are in Somalia and they are blamed for killing innocent Somalis," he told IPS on the condition of anonymity.
The Kenya National Human Rights commission said the government acts constituted a serious violation of the constitution and of international human rights standards. Commissioner Suzanne Chivusia said in a statement that hundreds of detainees have been held under inhuman and deplorable conditions and with limited access to basic provision like food, water and sanitation.
Mwinyi called on civilians with claims of human rights violations by the police force to record their cases with the police.
"We are ready, looking forward to receive and investigate and punish any officer who will be implicated in any illegal act in the operation," he said.
Independent Police Oversight Authority chairman Macharia Njeru said in a statement that the body has launched investigations over claims of illegal detentions, ethnic profiling and the holding of suspects incommunicado.
Meanwhile, the association of Muslims Organisation in Kenya chairperson, Fazul Mohamed, told IPS that his organisation would pursue an ideological approach to counter misleading interpretations of the Koran by clerics allied to terrorists.
He said the organisation has enlisted a strong team of clerics, scholars, politicians and experts to do this. He called it a genuine Jihad or religious war against a section of religious leaders who are undermining Islam and posing a threat to national cohesion.
"We have set the stage for a radical, multifaceted approach that explores all avenues of countering the radicalisation of youths in Kenya, including community policing and rehabilitation of youths who deserted the group or are willing to abandon Al-Shabaab," Mohamed told IPS.