* Three suspected al Shabaab supporters killed
* Several police hurt, one dies of wounds
* Insecurity at the coast harming tourism
By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Police shot dead three suspected supporters of the Somali militant group al Shabaab on Wednesday in a raid in Kenya’s turbulent coastal region, in which a police officer also died.
Kenya has suffered a series of grenade and gun attacks since it sent troops into Somalia a year ago in pursuit of the insurgents it blames for kidnapping security personnel and Western tourists from its territory.
Grenades, AK-47 assault rifles and ammunition were also confiscated during the night-time operation in the run-down Likoni area during the operation, Coast province police chief Aggrey Adoli said.
A local group campaigning for independence for the Coast region has added to tensions ahead of a presidential and parliamentary election due in March, the first since a disputed 2007 poll that sparked inter-ethnic violence nationwide in which more than 1,200 people were killed and thousands more displaced.
Adoli said the suspected al Shabaab supporters threw two grenades and opened fire when an elite Nairobi police unit burst into their building, seriously wounding four officers. One later died of his wounds in hospital.
About six people were also arrested but later released after it was found they were neighbours caught up in the raid, he said.
“With the key suspects killed and weapons recovered, the operation (has ended). It’s still a big success in our war against terrorism,” Adoli told Reuters.
Mwagomba Juma, a youth leader who lives in the area, said heavy gunfire, punctuated by at least two blasts, began in the early hours of the morning.
Dozens of police in bullet-proof vests and armed with automatic rifles combed the neighbourhood, just south of the port city of Mombasa, as nervous residents peered through their windows, witnesses said.
The instability has kept many foreign tourists away. The number of visitors to Kenya was down by a fifth in the first eight months of this year, a heavy blow to the tourism sector which is a main driver of east Africa’s biggest economy.
In Nairobi, Kenyan police arrested Mohammed Dor, a legislator and prominent Muslim cleric from the coastal region, after he said he had no objection to funding the separatist Muslim Mombasa Republican Council if they approached him.
“He will be charged in a Kenyan court of law on Thursday for incitement to violence,” Ireri Kamwende, Nairobi’s provincial criminal investigation officer said.
Dor’s arrest sparked fierce criticism of the police by Kenya’s Muslim leaders, who said their community was now living in “fear” of the police.
“We take this as a humiliation. It’s not only an embarrassment, it is disgraceful,” Abdullahi Abdi, chairman of the National Muslim Leaders Forum, told reporters in Nairobi.
Kenyan authorities have intensified a crackdown on the MRC movement which is seeking independence for the coastal region, a tourism and trade hub. The MRC says the region has suffered decades of social and economic marginalisation.
On Monday, MRC leader Omar Mwamnuadzi and 36 supporters were arrested. Kenya’s government said last week it had information that the MRC intended to sow chaos during national school exams that began on Monday.
Though there are no known links between the MRC and al Shabaab, there is a sizeable community of indigenous Somalis in Nairobi and along the coast swelled by numerous Somali refugees fleeing conflict in their homeland.
They as well as Kenya’s Muslims, who also make a large part of the coastal population, are thought to harbour some sympathies with the Somali militant group, as well as demands for secession for the coastal strip.