A Kenyan politician arrested in connection with the murder of 65 people on the coast this month denied responsibility after a court freed him on bail on Monday.
Issa Timamy, the governor of Lamu county, was arrested last Wednesday over the gun attacks, which President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed on local political networks rather than the Somali rebel group al Shabaab which claimed responsibility.
“I am not responsible for those attacks. Why would I kill my own people in my own county? I am innocent and if they (police) think I actually committed the crimes, then they should not have released me,” he told reporters outside the court.
Prosecutors said they still intended to charge Timamy with murder, forceful transfer of populations and terrorism related offences, over the killings in the Mpeketoni area of Lamu, the worst attacks since last September’s al Shabaab raid on a shopping mall in Nairobi in which 67 were killed.
On Monday the judge declined prosecutors’ request to detain Timamy for 14 days, and released him on bail of 5 million shillings ($57,000) cash or a bond of 20 million shillings.
Although attacks by al Shabaab in Kenya have grabbed international headlines, ethnic rivalries have festered for decades in Lamu and neighbouring Tana River where more than 100 people were killed in 2012 and 2013 in fighting over water and grazing land.
Suspicion has fallen on Timamy partly because he is from the local coastal community, while the attacks were directed at Kenyans from other ethnic groups who settled in the area from their ancestral homes in the hinterland decades ago.
Ethnic violence has erupted in the past in Kenya, notably after a contested 2007 election when about 1,200 people were killed in tribal clashes.
Raila Odinga, a former prime minister who was Kenyatta’s main challenger in last year’s presidential vote, has said talks are needed between the opposition and the government to discuss security failings and other problems.
The government has dismissed the demand, saying Odinga is trying to manufacture a crisis to claw his way back to office.