MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked militants may be planning attacks in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa to mark the anniversary of the assassination of a Muslim cleric, police said on Thursday.
Mombasa, which is Kenya’s second-largest city and lies on the Indian Ocean coast, is a magnet for tourists and a trade gateway to the east and central African region.
Muslim cleric Aboud Rogo, accused by the Kenyan government and the United States of helping Islamist al Shabaab militants in Somalia, was killed on August 27 last year when unidentified gunmen sprayed bullets into his car. His killing sparked days of deadly riots in the city, where about 70 percent of residents are Muslim.
Police, who have not yet arrested the cleric’s killers, said that al Shabaab may be planning to mark the anniversary of his death with violence.
“We have received intelligence information and are aware of threats by the al Shabaab terrorist network to launch attacks in sections of Mombasa city, to commemorate the killing of Sheikh Aboud Rogo last year,” Robert Kitur, Mombasa county police chief, told Reuters.
“We are specifically alert about next week because that is when it will be exactly one year since his killing.”
Kitur said security had been beefed up in the city, and that police had banned demonstrations to mark Rogo’s death by his supporters.
Mombasa hosts the region’s sole oil refinery, and its airport was temporarily used by international flights diverted from the region’s main airport in Nairobi after the arrivals terminal was gutted in a fierce inferno in early August.
Kenyan troops entered Somalia two years ago to try to root out al Shabaab, which had been blamed for attacks in Kenya, triggering apparent revenge grenade and gun attacks in Mombasa, the capital Nairobi and frontier towns last year.
The riots that followed Rogo’s death exposed deep social, political and sectarian divides in Mombasa and the coastal region. The government said the violence was organized by Kenya’s “enemies” and blamed Muslim radicals for supporting al Shabaab.
Many Muslims blamed the authorities for the cleric’s killing, and said it was part of a campaign against their community and faith.
Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Pravin Char