MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Muslim youths fought police in the Kenyan port of Mombasa and one person was killed on Wednesday, witnesses said, in a third day of violence over the killing of a man in a police raid on a mosque used by firebrand preachers.
Kenya is trying to break up militant recruitment networks among its Muslim community in efforts to end attacks by Somali Islamist militants and their sympathizers bent on punishing it for sending troops to Somalia to fight al Shabaab rebels.
The east African country, which has the region’s largest economy, is still reeling from an al Shabaab attack on a luxury shopping mall in Nairobi in September which at least 67 people were killed.
On Wednesday evening, youths pelted vehicles with rocks and torched motorcycles in a third day of disturbances since the Sunday raid on the mosque, creating a major traffic snarl up on the busy highway that leads into Mombasa from the hinterland.
Witnesses said police fired teargas and bullets over the heads of crowds to scatter them, with youths shouting “killers” at the officers. A witness said one of his colleagues, an artisan, was killed by rioters on his way home from work.
“This is my colleague. I work with him at a workshop in Majengo. He was attacked, stabbed and killed two hours ago by those rioters,” Tom Mutua told Reuters at the hospital in Mombasa where the body had been taken from the scene, referring to a run-down neighborhood in the Indian Ocean port city.
A Reuters witness said some youths had stoned bystanders and that around 10 people had been stabbed.
“These were rowdy youth who attacked anyone at random for no reason. I am sure even some Muslims were injured. This is a problem for everybody, not just one religion,” said Robert Kitur, the Mombasa county police chief.
“They can say anything they want and accuse police of anything but from our end, we are only aware of three deaths, that of two youths and a police officer whom they killed on Sunday.”
A Reuters witness who visited the Masjid Mussa mosque stormed on Sunday saw dry blood stains on the carpet, walls and curtains, bullet holes in the walls and spent cartridges and broken glass littering the floor.
Kenyan security officials say the Masjid Mussa mosque is a hotbed of militant activity, in particular recruitment of disgruntled young Kenyan Muslims into local Islamist networks and al Shabaab in Somalia.
Worshippers at the mosque accuse the security services of operating a death squad, a charge the police deny.
Kenya’s coastal region is heavily dependent on tourism and occasional grenade attacks by al Shabaab and rioting by disaffected youths are putting off foreign visitors.
Tensions on Kenya’s mainly Muslim coast have increased in recent months following the assassinations of several Muslim clerics and Christian preachers.
Editing by George Obulutsa and Mark Heinrich