Jun 6, 2007
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenyan police killed more than 20 suspected members of an outlawed religious sect accused of beheadings and the deaths of two police officers this week, authorities said Tuesday.
The shootings of the suspected Mungiki members happened between Monday night and early Tuesday, in the aftermath of the officers' deaths in the Mathare slum Monday, police said.
"The police mounted an operation to crack down on those who were behind the killing," police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told The Associated Press.
More than 100 people then tried to obstruct the police operation and a shootout broke out, he said.
Relatives of the suspects were heading to the city's mortuary to identify the bodies.
Mungiki members are suspected in the deaths of at least 14 people in the past three months -- including six found mutilated or beheaded on Monday, authorities said. The group is also accused of extorting money from minibus drivers who provide the main form of public transport in Kenya.
The violence has raised fears that Mungiki members are out to disrupt the elections in December, when President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term.
Police say they found leaflets allegedly circulated by the group calling on Kenyan youth to join up and prepare for an uprising against the government.
Clashes have broken out every election year since 1992, and this year has been no different. Besides the Mungiki violence, land disputes in the Mount Elgon area, 320 miles (515 kilometers) northwest of Nairobi, have killed more than 140 people and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Mungiki is believed to have thousands of adherents, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe.
The group, whose name means "multitude" in the Kikuyu language, was inspired by the bloody Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against British colonial rule. In recent years, it has been linked to extortion, murder and political violence.
Members traditionally wear dreadlocks, inspired by the Mau Mau who wore them as a symbol of anti-colonialism and their determination not to conform to Western norms. In recent years, however, many Mungiki have shaved their heads, believing dreadlocks are too conspicuous.
Sect members pray facing Mount Kenya, which the Kikuyu believe to be the home of their supreme deity. The group also encourages female genital mutilation and using tobacco snuff.
Last week, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said that police had arrested 2,464 suspected Mungiki followers in recent months.