Kenyan police and paramilitary forces have arrested as many as 400 Somali immigrants during a security sweep in Nairobi. The sweep follows a violent protest by Muslim youths in the capital Friday, which the Kenyan government says was backed by militants in Somalia. More than a dozen parliament members from Somalia are also being detained.
Somali residents in the city's Eastleigh neighborhood tell VOA that heavily-armed paramilitary troops and anti-terrorism police went door-to-door Sunday evening, arresting anyone they suspected of being in Kenya illegally.
Eastleigh is known locally as "Little Mogadishu" because it is home to a large ethnic Somali population.
Abdurahman Salad Qoryole, a member of Somalia's transitional parliament, says police arrested him and more than a dozen other Somali parliament members and government officials in Eastleigh without explanation.
Qorole says many Somalis holding foreign passports, as well as a former Somali military commander and prominent Somali businessmen, are also in police custody. The parliament member called the arrests "insulting" and "unjustified."
A senior Kenyan police official declined to comment on the security sweep. But he said the police only arrested those who did not possess valid visas and travel documents.
The Somali ambassador to Kenya has reportedly been summoned to Mogadishu for urgent consultations. Nairobi has long been home for many Somali government officials and parliament members facing security threats in Somalia.
The raid on Eastleigh follows claims by Kenya's Interior Minister George Saitoti that Friday's protest by hundreds of Muslim youths had the backing of Somalia's al-Qaida-linked militant group, al-Shabab.
During the protest, several demonstrators unfurled a black flag adopted by al-Shabab and other Islamic extremist groups around the world. Kenyan riot police fired tear-gas and live bullets during running battles, which killed and wounded more than a dozen people.
The protesters took to the streets to demand the release of a radical Jamaican-born cleric, Abdullah al-Faisal, who was arrested in Kenya on December 31 while on a preaching tour. Earlier this month, Kenyan authorities tried and failed to deport the cleric, who had previously served a four-year jail term in Britain for inciting racial hatred.
On Sunday, al-Shabab's main spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage, praised the protest, but denied his group was involved.
Al-Shabab controls vast areas of southern Somalia and has been leading an insurgency since early 2007 to overthrow the U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu. It aims to create an ultra-conservative Islamic caliphate in the Horn of Africa.
Al-Shabab's growing ties with al-Qaida and al-Qaida-inspired groups, including efforts to recruit fighters and suicide bombers among the Somali Diaspora, have raised alarm and concern among western governments and their allies in the region.