Jun 1, 2007

2,464 sect suspects arrested in Kenya

Malkhadir M. Muhumed, AP Writer, with Tom Odula
Houston Chronicle
June 1, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya — Police have arrested 2,464 suspected followers of an outlawed religious sect whose members are believed to have beheaded several people in recent months, the government spokesman said Thursday.

The arrests occurred in the past few months, all of suspected Mungiki followers, government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press, referring to the shadowy group suspected in the deaths of at least 12 people in the past three months. Six of the bodies were found mutilated or beheaded more than a week ago on the outskirts of the capital.

Mungiki, which means multitude in the Kikuyu language, emerged in the 1990s and was inspired by the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against British colonial rule. It was banned in 2002.

Growing insecurity in the country has raised fears that Mungiki is out to disrupt the general elections scheduled for December, when President Mwai Kibaki is expected to seek a second term.

In recent days, leaflets have been distributed in the capital claiming the sect will hold a rally Friday to expose high-level government officials and lawmakers who are its members.

Late Wednesday, other leaflets were distributed in all of Nairobi's slums, accusing Kibaki's administration of failing to honor election pledges made in 2002 to create jobs and rewrite Kenya's constitution. Those leaflets also claimed that more than 16,000 members of Kenya's security forces were members of the sect and threatened to kill police officers.

Sect leaders rarely speak to journalists and were not immediately available for comment.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said the leaflets were aimed at diverting the police's attention, but the force was on high alert and taking the death threats "very seriously."


Associated Press writer Tom Odula contributed to this report.