MOMBASA — A government crackdown on Muslim militants in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa is making the work of human rights advocates and moderate Muslim clerics more difficult, as they face danger both from security forces and radical youths.
In March, two gunmen stormed a church in Mombasa's Likoni neighborhood and opened fire, killing four worshippers and injuring 15 others. Days later, City Commissioner Nelson Marwa called for his officers to execute terror suspects who he believed were behind the church attack, and those roaming in the streets targeting innocent people.
The commissioner was condemned by human rights campaigners who also called for his resignation.
A week later the commissioner said he was putting the campaigners on notice, as they planned to protest the killing of controversial cleric Abubakar Sharif Ahmed, also known as Makaburi.
Advocating human rights
Khalid Hussein is the head of Haki Africa, a rights group whose name in Swahili means "Justice." He said security officials should not vent their anger and frustrations at human rights campaigners.
“We feel that the government is under a lot of pressure and understandably so, because insecurity of this nature would put anyone under frustration. But we get very concerned when government authorities take it out on civil society groups that are actually trying to help,” Hussein said.
Mombasa has witnessed a wave of terror attacks and killings of suspected terror suspects. Fingers are being pointed at security officers, an accusation strongly denied by the government.
As the threats and attacks increase, Hussein said it is becoming dangerous for rights activists to walk in the streets.
“Even as human rights activists, we face threats almost on a daily basis from government officers, sometimes from communities that feel we need to do more," he said. "Sometimes we get people asking us to come out more firmly and demand justice be done. When we tell them the wheels of justice move on their own pace, they do not get satisfied.”
Some Muslim communities in Mombasa have been angered by radical youths taking over two influential mosques in the Majengo neighborhood.
Late last year, hundreds of Muslim youths armed with knives invaded Sakina mosque and ejected the clerics, holding the mosque under siege for more than two hours.
The day of the attack, the Council of Imams and Preachers chairman Sheikh Mohamed Idris was in the mosque giving sermons, as he has for the past 35 years.
Idris noted six months later the same youths still call the clerics names and accuse them of working with the government to oppress the Muslim community. He said the clerics were not antagonizing the youths in anyway, did not insult them or speak poorly about them, but they call the clerics bad names in the streets. Idris said the youths call the clerics hypocrites, and call the Council of Imams and Preachers the "Satan organization."
Three years ago, the CIPK and other Muslim organizations convened an Islamic conference to bring together top scholars to discuss whether fighting in neighboring Somalia between militant group al-Shabab and the Somali government was a holy war.
The scholars agreed there was no holy war in Somalia and some clerics, like Idris, believe that conclusion might have angered the youths and supporters of al-Shabab.
Sheikh Idris said that since he left the mosque, all the sermons are about jihad and how radical Muslims are treated by the government, nothing else.
But Idris said when something goes wrong, it is important for people to sit, look at it very keenly, and call on people who are well-educated and understand the topic at hand. He asked that if what is happening now were to continue, who will listen to whom?
Kenya has troops in Somalia fighting al-Shabab. The al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for last year's assault on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, in which more than 60 people were killed.