News / Africa

Tension, Violence on the Rise in Mombasa, Kenya

Armed police guard the Salvation Army Church after it was set on fire by rioting youths, following Friday Muslim prayers in Mombasa, Kenya, Oct. 4, 2013.
Armed police guard the Salvation Army Church after it was set on fire by rioting youths, following Friday Muslim prayers in Mombasa, Kenya, Oct. 4, 2013.
Tension is running high in Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city, where five Muslim clerics have been killed in the past year, and a Christian cleric was shot to death on October 19.  Locals accuse the police of operating with impunity and making the situation worse.

Rehema Lugogo, 44, has been searching for her husband, Badru Bakari Mramba, for almost a year.  She is one of the dozens of women whose sons and husbands were accused of being terror suspects and who disappeared in the last few years.
 
Lugogo’s husband went missing on November 13, 2012. She said Mramba was operating a snack kiosk near Musa Mosque in the impoverished neighborhood of Majengo.
 
Kenyan security forces accused clerics at the mosque of recruiting for Somali militant group al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for last month's massacre at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
 
The mother of four believes her husband was taken away by Kenya's anti-terror police unit just because he knew a lot about the activities in the area.
 
“He was near the mosque.  Maybe they thought there was something he knew and as I said he is a Muslim, he goes to the mosque, he listens to the sermons," she explained. "He knows a lot of people and a lot of people know him.  Him being there, he knew the good people, people are different he knows many characters.”
 
According to the wife, a day before Mramba was reported missing, he attended the wedding of the daughter of the late controversial cleric Aboud Rogo.
 
Rogo was one of five clerics from the Musa Mosque killed by unidentified gunmen over the past year. Another leading cleric, Ibrahim Amor, was killed along with three of his associates early this month.
 
A day after Rogo's daughter's wedding, anti-terror police raided the cleric’s house and arrested three people including two of his children.  They were accused a planning a major attack in Mombasa. 
 
The three suspects were later arraigned in court, but not Mramba - who has yet to reappear. 
 
Mombasa's Christian community has not been spared from violence either.  Late on Saturday, unidentified gunmen stormed the church of Pastor Charles Mathole and killed him while he was praying.  According to family members, the late pastor had received death threats ahead of the shooting.
 
Francis Auma, works with Muslim for Human Rights (MUHURI), a Mombasa-based rights group.  His organization has documented dozens of alleged arbitrary arrests and killings by police.
 
Auma said the way police handle alleged terrorism cases is disturbing.
 
“There are a lot of things happening in [the] coast [region] within a period of three years.  The trend is really worrying and this is what we call impunity of high tech, and this is what we call extra-judicial killings.  And this is what we call torture from the state to the civilians,” Auma said.
 
United Nations investigators and human rights groups also accused Kenyan police of killing suspects, an accusation the police have denied.
 
Mombasa police boss Robert Kitur acknowledged some families have reported some of their family members missing.
 
‘If somebody has reported about a missing person, it’s upon us to circulate the same with a view of even arresting or with the view of bringing back that person and very many people have come out not even missing somebody," Kitur said. "Maybe he or she was in errands elsewhere without informing the parents or the guardians.”
 
For now, mistrust continues between the police and the community in Mombasa. Some security observers have expressed concern that further violence could take the coastal region in a direction that is in nobody’s interest.
 

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