At least five people have died after Kenyan police opened fire at supporters of a Jamaican-born Muslim cleric notorious for preaching racial hatred. Police also fired tear gas at hundreds of stone-throwing protesters calling for Abdullah al-Faisal to be freed.
Muslim youths began the protest match after Friday prayers at the Jamia Mosque in the centre of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. They wanted to present a petition to Immigration Minister Raila Odinga’s office, but police had banned the march and intervened. Some reporters suggest that protesters were waving flags of Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab. Some people joined the security forces in attacking the protesters.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), the demonstrators were blocked by police with dogs as they tried to march through the heart of Nairobi. Some Kenyans, furious the banned protest had taken place, joined forces with the police and began hurling stones at the marchers, most of whom were squeezed back toward the mosque after prolonged street skirmishes. One protester in fatigues and a black balaclava waved the flag of al Shabaab – the Somali rebel group that Washington accuses of being al Qaeda’s proxy – and taunted the crowds by drawing his finger across his throat in a slitting motion.
After nightfall, Somalis in Nairobi ran the gauntlet of mob justice. A Reuters witness saw a Somali man being dragged from his car, not far from the mosque, and beaten by an angry mob. While the leaders of the protest were Kenyan Muslims, many of the demonstrators from the mosque were Somali and this perception was fuelling the attacks.
During the clashes, small ambulances shuttled to and fro with sirens blaring. A helicopter clattered overhead and police used water cannons to try to clear the streets. Security forces fired AK-47 assault rifles at pockets of stone-throwing protestors. Demonstrators Friday shouted Al Faisal’s innocence and decried his detention without charges, unfurling banners that called for the stop of the “persecution of Islam and Muslims.” (The Star)
Local media gave widely differing reports of casualties, ranging from two to seven dead. Sources at the Kenyatta Hospital have confirmed that one person has died, while seven others sustained bullet wounds. Doctors say that their lives are not in danger. At least four police officers have been hospitalized.
Faisal is in detention in Nairobi after Kenya failed to deport him. Kenya wants to expel him citing his “terrorist history”. He was jailed for four years in the UK for soliciting the murder of Jews and HIndus. Faisal was arrested on December 31, 2009, a week after he is believed to have arrived in Tanzania. The Gambia has agreed to take him in but Kenya was unable to send him there because airlines in Nigeria refused to carry him. Tanzania has also refused to let him re-enter its territory.
Faisal was born Trever William Forrest in St. James, Jamaica – though he left the island 26 years ago, initially living in the UK. His parents were Salvation Army officers and he was raised as a Christian. But at the age of 16 he went to Saudi Arabia – where he is believed to have spent eight years – and became a Muslim. He took a degree in Islamic studies in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, before coming back to the UK. Faisal spent years travelling the UK preaching racial hatred urging his audience to kill Jews, Hindus and Westerners. A year being deported from the UK in 2007, he was preaching in South Africa.
The Kenyan authorities said Faisal had arrived in Kenya on December 24, 2009 after travelling through Nigeria, Angolia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi and Tanzania.
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said it was unfortunate Kenyan security had been disrupted in the name of religion. “I am calling for Somalis to support peace, and respect their host. Kenya, like any other sovereign state, has the right to deport whoever it considers to be a national security threat,” he told Reuters in Nairobi.
“Mr. al Faisal is a threat to this country because of his alleged tendencies to recruit suicide bombers,” government spokesman Alfred Mutua told reporters after the riots. (Reuters)
“We don’t want our country to be like Somalia, this is Kenya. If people are protesting about someone, they are not behaving like people demanding their rights,” said engineer Aggrey Kaisha, as he watched the protest from a nearby street corner. (The Star)
Kenya hosts some 300,000 Somali refugees in camps and there is a large community in the capital. Some Somalis who fled the war say they fear Islamists are luring their children away from their new life in Kenya.
Al Shabaab is battling to overthrow the Somali government and impose its own harsh version of sharia, Islamic law. While there are frequent reports of Al Shabaab sympathizers being seen in Eastleigh, the appearance of their flags on the capital’s streets is new. Although the border with Somalia is officially closed, there is little security and in some places no distinction between the countries. Authorities say the Shabaab has already penetrated refugee camps, attaching young recruits and fettering them across the border.