NAIROBI (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International condemned Kenyan police on Tuesday for the execution-style killing of more than 30 people in last week’s crackdown on the deadly Mungiki gang in a Nairobi slum.
Hundreds of police officers went into the Mathare shanty-town on two raids, shooting dead at least 33 people they said were suspected members of the Mungiki criminal ring that runs extortion rackets and beheads its enemies.
Police said they had targeted known criminals, came under fire during the operation, and in fact showed restraint.
But UK-based Amnesty “strongly condemned” the killings. It called for an independent inquiry, punishment for those guilty of “extrajudicial executions” and compensation for relatives.
The group noted the police operations followed remarks from Internal Security Minister John Michuki days earlier vowing to “wipe out” Mungiki and saying “there will be a burial tomorrow”.
“Amnesty International is concerned that the minister’s remarks may have been construed as being an order to the Kenyan police to shoot to kill any suspected members of the Mungiki group,” it said in a statement sent to media.
“Amnesty International is further concerned that such remarks would appear to endorse the extrajudicial execution of criminal suspects.”
Mungiki began in the 1990s as a quasi-religious sect but later developed into a large organized crime operation with a particularly strong grip on the local minibus sector.
Some opposition leaders and Kenyan rights campaigners have also criticized the police operations, saying they were an excessive response and demonstrated a shoot-to-kill policy routinely used against criminals across the east African nation.
Weary of Mungiki-related violence, however, many Kenyans are less quick to censure the police. Some quote the Swahili saying “Dawa ya moto ni moto” or “The cure for fire is fire”.
The Mathare killings came after two policemen were killed by Mungiki in the latest of a wave of murders by the gang.
Until the police raids, the gang held a firm grip on Mathare, demanding protection money and controlling illegal businesses such as homemade alcohol.
Together with tribal violence in west Kenya that has killed about 140 people, plus an unexplained blast in Nairobi this week, the Mungiki violence is part of a trend of increased volatility across the nation ahead of a presidential poll.
Kenya is due to hold an election by the end of the year, and violence traditionally flares in the run-up to votes.