Kenyan security forces raided a mainly Somali suburb of the capital yesterday, arresting scores of people following violence at a protest two days earlier blamed on extremists from the lawless Horn of Africa nation.
While the protest against the deportation of a jailed Muslim cleric was organised by Kenyan Muslims, many of the marchers who fought pitched battles with the security forces in the heart of Nairobi for more than eight hours on Friday were Somalis.
Security forces swooped on the suburb of Eastleigh on Sunday night and began carting people away, including 16 members of the Somali parliament, Somali lawmaker Ahmed Nur Ugas, told Reuters.
In the Barakat Hotel in Eastleigh, police went from room to room, searched the kitchens and toilets, opened bags and asked residents why they were in Kenya and what their nationality was.
At Friday’s protest, some demonstrators carried flags identified with Somalia’s hardline Islamist rebel group al Shabaab and there were reports of mobs attacking Somalis.
“We warned of a situation like this. It seems Kenyan security forces are simply categorising the whole community as a terrorist group,” said cleric Sheikh Hassan Qoryoleey. “That is not the case. The majority of Somalis are peace-loving people.”
The Kenyan government quickly put the blame for the violence that killed at least one person on extremist youths exposed to “foreign elements” and assured Muslims in Kenya their religious freedom and civil liberties would be respected.
But some Somalis in Kenya fear they will all be tarred with the same brush, despite their warnings that rebel sympathisers and hardline clerics were a growing cause of concern in Kenya.
Shabaab praises demonstration
Parents in Eastleigh have been worried for some time that religious schools funded by Somali rebel groups have been recruiting and luring youths to Somalia.
“The (Kenyan) government has played down frequent warnings from ordinary people,” said moderate cleric Qoryoleey. “They are repeating the mistakes of Somalia, where we played down the consequences of extreme ideology.”
Madrassa (Islamic) schools and a radical 24-hour cable channel in Kenya have become new breeding and indoctrination grounds for rebel groups based in Somalia, residents say.
Al Shabaab said yesterday it was not behind the protest, but praised the marchers for taking up the cause of jailed cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal. The cleric was deported from Britain in 2007 after a jail term for stirring up racial hatred.
“That demonstration is the obligation of all Muslims wherever they are and we praise that,” al Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters in Somalia.
“That is the action of pure Muslims.”
A Kenyan Somali who attended prayers last Friday at the downtown mosque where the protest started, said the government should recognise the Muslim community as a whole did not support the aims and tactics of some demonstrators.
“The people have to be careful about what they are doing and the reason they are doing it. This is not a Kenyan or Somali issue. It is not between Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Mohamed Awale, who owns a shop in Eastleigh.
“The hidden agenda was made clear, because the level of the violence shows that there are people who have another intention covering up themselves as Muslim activists,” he told Reuters. A mother of six living in one of the many refugee camps outside the Somali capital Mogadishu said the appearance of the al Shabaab flag on the streets of Nairobi was devastating.
“Al Shabaab has left us completely hopeless. We can no longer flee to Kenya our second Somalia,” said Sahra Hussein. “I was thinking of taking my kids to Kenyan refugee camps. Now al Shabaab has erased the last hope.”
Besides the large Somali community in Nairobi, Kenya hosts some 300 000 Somali refugees in sprawling refugee camps.
Pic: Kenyan Police