NAIROBI – Muslims in Kenya are still reeling in outrage and shock following a bloody and brazen attack on a major mosque in the coastal city of Mombasa by riot police that left several people dead, saying that attacking a house of worship was totally unacceptable.
“We do appreciate that the government has the primary responsibility of maintaining security in the country. But excessive and unintelligence application of force is unacceptable and futile in addressing the issue at hand,” Imam of Nairobi’s Jamia mosque Sheikh Muhammad Swalihu, who oversees the largest and most influential Muslim institution in Kenya, told OnIslam.net.
“Places of worship should be respected and remain sacrosanct under whatever circumstances. The way the police desecrated the mosque can never be justified,” he added.
The attack dates back to last Sunday when hundreds of heavily-armed police officers laid siege on Masjid Musa in Mombasa for several hours, seeking to break up a one-day seminar organized by youths in the mosque allegedly to discuss the Islamic rulings on Jihad.
Launching their attack, the police fired teargas bombs into the mosque, before storming into the building with guns blazing to arrest the youth, a move that was fiercely resisted by those gathered inside.
At the end of the unfortunate incident, a number of people lay dead, including one police officer, while several others injured.
The exact number of people who lost their lives in the bloody incident remains unclear; human rights groups insist that at least eight people died, contrary to police figures of three. At least 130 people were arrested, while at least 10 remain unaccounted for.
The police also claimed that they recovered a loaded AK 47 rifle from the mosque but this claim has failed to convince many Muslims in the country who believe the security forces may have planted the gun during the operation to justify their attack.
Muslim leaders from across Kenya were swift in their condemnation of the police handling of the incident, saying attacking a house of worship was totally unacceptable.
On his part, top Muslim scholar and legal expert Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome wondered why the police did not attempt to stop the meeting before it even started, if they considered it a "security threat."
“If they were opposed to the meeting, why did they allow it to take place the whole morning and only invade the mosque at midday, when people had come in for normal prayers? That would have prevented in unnecessary confrontation and loss of lives,” he told OnIslam.net.
“We cannot afford to keep silent on the fact that police used excessive force in disrupting the meeting, gross violation of human and children’s right. Whereas we do not support any illegal activity by any person whether Muslim or non-Muslim, the action by the police cannot be justified at all,” he added.
As police claimed that the attack was planned to curb Muslim youth ‘radicalization’, analysts and human rights activists warned that it could be best propaganda for Al-shabbab group in the east African country.
“Through such acts of unnecessary violence they fall prey to terrorist propaganda and unwittingly abet the radicalization and terrorist recruitment processes,” Chair of the Muslim Human Rights Forum Al-Amin Kimathi told OnIslam.net.
Kimathi warned that the excessive use of force by the security forces and the dishonoring of the mosque may fuel a cycle of violence in the country between youths and police.
“Shouldn’t the consequences, both in the immediate and long term, and the implications they have to the country’s peace and security be taken into consideration before mounting any operation?” he added.
Efforts to locate the organizers and participants of the seminar to give their account of the events were not successful, since many of them are still being held by police, while others are in hiding.
Masjid Musa has attracted attention of Kenya's security forces for several years now for allegedly recruiting youths in Kenya to join Somalia's Al Shabaab group which claims to be fighting to establish the rule of Shariah in Somalia.
In August 2012, the mosque's preacher Sheikh Aboud Rogo was killed in a drive-by shooting by people believed to be from the Kenya police, allegedly claiming that his sermons were exhorting youths in Kenya to join Al Shabaab.
Again in October 2013, Rogo's successor Sheikh Ibrahim Omar, was also shot dead in similar circumstances.
But their sermons, available in DVDs and audio recordings, still exert considerable influence to a section of Muslim youths in Kenya.
Kenya's security forces consider Al Shabaab a security threat, blaming the group for numerous attacks in Kenya including bomb blasts and kidnappings of foreigners living in Kenya. Last September, a prominent shopping mall in Nairobi was attacked by the group, in which at least 67 people died and hundreds injured.
Recently, Muslim leaders organized a conference in Nairobi to explore strategies of countering ideas of groups that carry out attacks on civilians in the name of Jihad such as Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab.
They concluded that one of the factors driving Kenyan youths into such groups is the actions by security forces such as arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings of Muslims and attack on mosques, all in the name of “fighting terrorism."
The conference, organized by the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, concluded that efforts to tackle vices like terrorism should be done within the law to avoid creating more problems.
With the majority of Muslim leaders in Kenya are opposed to the recruitment of youths to Al Shabaab since they consider the group to be harming the cause of Islam, those leaders were concerned that security attacks undermine their efforts to discourage Muslim youth from joining Al-Shabaab.
“Muslims in Kenya are angry at what police did in Masjid Musa," says Sheikh Lethome.
“This incident might drive some angry youth to commit attacks in Kenya and justify it as retaliation to the desecration of the mosque. Police are only escalating the situation instead of resolving it.”
It is estimated that there are at least 10 million Muslims in Kenya out of the total 40 million, most of whom live in the coastal and North Eastern parts of the country.
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