Islamic radicalism hits ancient city of Mombasa
MOMBASA, Kenya – Hardline Muslim clerics. Young people who feel marginalized. Suspicions that police are responsible for the killings and forced disappearances of extremists.
These elements created a combustible mixture that exploded into rioting last week after Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a Muslim preacher accused of links to an Islamist insurgent group in neighboring Somalia, was riddled with bullets as he drove his wife to a hospital for a checkup.
Observers say these events underscore growing fundamentalism in Mombasa, dividing people in a city established centuries ago by Muslim traders from the Arabian peninsula, now home to many people of Arab descent and Somalis.
No one has been arrested for the Aug. 27 killing that happened in broad daylight but Mohammed's wife, who was wounded in the leg, immediately suspected the police.
"It is you policemen who have killed him, we don't want a post-mortem or any help from you," Khaniya Said Sagar told police officers who came to assist her. Mohammed was the fifth alleged Muslim extremist who has been killed or who has disappeared in the last four months.
The Masjid Musa mosque where Mohammed preached weekly became ground zero of the rioting over two days in which four people, including three members of the security forces, were killed and three churches were damaged. Hundreds of angry young Muslims who took to the streets blamed police for the killing of Mohammed.
"There is growing religious fundamentalism in Mombasa that is reaching to certain heights that were not there (before)," said the Rev. Wilybard Lagho, a Catholic priest who is the chairman of the Coast Inter-Faith Council of clerics, a forum which brings together clerics from several faiths to discuss common concerns. "Extremism divides people as `we versus them' and that brings tension."
Hassan Omar Hassan, a former deputy head of the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, knew Mohammed, and said the cleric became more outspoken and adopted a hardline stance after he emerged from prison. Mohammed had been jailed for the December 2002 killing of 13 people in a bomb attack of an Israeli-owned hotel at the Kenyan coast and the attempted downing of a jetliner packed with Israeli tourists. Mohammed was charged with murder but was acquitted in a trial.