, MOMBASA, Kenya, Aug 29 – Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday called for the nation to come together to stop religious violence, after two days of deadly rioting sparked by the killing of a radical cleric.
“We are not going to allow outside forces to incite Kenyans to create religious war,” Odinga said after flying to the port city of Mombasa, where four people died in street battles that broke out on Monday.
Police said Wednesday morning that they had restored calm to the town, after hundreds of angry youths fought running battles with the police – looting churches, torching cars and attacking a police truck with a grenade – following the assassination of preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed.
The cleric – popularly known as Rogo – was on US and UN sanctions lists for allegedly supporting neighbouring Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militants.
Police said two officers wounded in the grenade attack on Tuesday died overnight, taking the toll of those killed in the blast to three.
Over a dozen other officers were wounded in the attack. One person was also hacked to death in the riots on Monday.
“We have many political enemies but we want to see coexistence among all the communities living in Mombasa,” Odinga said, after meeting with religious leaders in the majority-Muslim town, which also has a significant Christian population.
Rogo had fiercely opposed Kenya’s invasion of southern Somalia last year to attack Shabaab bases. The US and UN had accused him of recruiting and fundraising for the extremist insurgents.
Police said Wednesday that although they had restored control to Mombasa – a key port for the wider east Africa region and a major tourist hub – tensions remained high.
“We do not have any problems this morning…. Even public transport is back to normal business, and shops have been opened,” regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said. “We have made adequate deployment for street patrols to maintain peace.”
An AFP reporter said police were conducting house-to-house searches looking for suspects, as well as for guns and other weapons.
Foreign embassies – including those of Australia, Britain, France and the US – have issued travel warnings for Mombasa, where several large tourist resorts are based.
Rogo was killed Monday in Mombasa when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle as he was driving with his wife and children, leaving it riddled with bullets.
Images released by his supporters showed his bloody corpse slumped behind the wheel. His wife and children reportedly survived the attack.
Human Rights Watch has called for a probe into the killing, noting it “follows the abductions and deaths earlier this year of several other people charged with recruitment and other offences related to the Shabaab.”
Rogo’s supporters accused the security forces of murdering him, calling his death an “extra-judicial killing”. The police reject the claim and have appealed for help in hunting down those responsible.
The Supreme Council of Muslims in Kenya condemned both the killing of Rogo and the subsequent violence, especially the targeting of churches.
However, Somalia’s extremist Shabaab called on Kenyan Muslims to “take all necessary measures” to defend their religion.
“Muslims must take the matter into their own hands, stand united against the kuffar (non-Muslims) and take all necessary measures to protect their religion, their honour, their property and their lives from the enemies of Islam,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.
President Mwai Kibaki had been due to travel to Mombasa on Wednesday to launch a new navy ship, but cancelled his trip to attend the funeral of a former minister’s widow, according to government spokesman Alfred Mutua.