Kenya detains two over attacks stoking political tensions

by Reuters
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 15:47 GMT

* Somalia's al Shabaab rebels claimed latest attacks

* Kenyatta said local politics not Islamists to blame

* Rival Odinga calls Kenyatta's statements "unjustified" (Adds comment by Red Cross, denial by coastal separatist group)

By Joseph Akwiri

MOMBASA, Kenya, June 18 (Reuters) - Police said they detained two men for questioning on Wednesday linked to attacks this week along Kenya's coast that killed about 65 people and fuelled a political row over security.

Islamist militants from neighbouring Somalia claimed responsibility for the attacks and execution-style killings but Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has dismissed their account, saying the assaults were the work of his political rivals.

Gunmen launched the first raid on town of Mpeketoni on Sunday night, killing 49 people, some of them gathered to watch World Cup soccer matches on television. Just 24 hours later, they attacked a nearby village and torched homes.

Survivors said they were held at gunpoint and told to prove they were Muslims.

A senior police officer said two men linked to minibuses used by the attackers had been detained. One man was the owner of a vehicle used and the other was a driver of the other bus used in the assault.

"We are conducting very serious and comprehensive investigations," John Miiri, appointed police chief in the area after his predecessor was sacked over security failings in the attacks, told Reuters. "The two are being interrogated."

The new attacks have fuelled public criticism of the government for failing to do more to improve national security.

Many residents had fled into the nearby forests for safety during the attack, leaving dozens missing. A Kenya Red Cross official said most had now been located.

"We had 52 missing, but that number has gone down to nine," said Red Cross official Wariko Waita.


Kenya has blamed al Shabaab for a spate of gun and bomb attacks in recent months and holds it responsible for a raid on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in September last year in which 67 people were killed.

On Tuesday, Kenyatta shifted blame for the latest strikes to his domestic political rivals, accusing them of "hate-mongering" and trying to stoke ethnic tensions.

Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu, did not offer any names, but his comments were widely seen as referring to his rival in last year's presidential race, Raila Odinga, a Luo who recently returned from abroad and has held a series of rallies that have charged the political atmosphere.

"The statement was unfortunate and unjustified for several reasons," Odinga said on Wednesday in his response to the president's remarks. "More importantly it is likely to compromise the investigations."

Al Shabaab has said its operations are aimed at pushing Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia, something Kenya has said it will not do.

The Mombasa Republic Council, a coastal separatist movement, also said it had nothing to do with the attacks after Kenyatta's remarks about the involvement of "local political networks".

"Our agenda is not and has never been to kill innocent people," Randu Nzai, the MRC secretary-general, told Reuters in Mombasa. "We are pursuing legal means to solve our grievances, and people should stop dragging us into this mud." (Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Editing by Edmund Blair and Tom Heneghan)

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