Kenyan faith leaders urge calm after Mombasa riots

By Fredrick Nzwili
Posted Aug 29, 2012

[Ecumenical News International, Nairobi, Kenya] Kenyan Christian and Muslim leaders are calling for calm in the coastal city of Mombasa after two days of violence over the killing of a militant Muslim cleric.

Churches were torched, vandalized and looted by Muslim youths who were protesting the 27 August killing of Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a cleric the American government has accused of aiding the al-Shabab militants of Somalia, allegedly linked to al-Quaeda. More than eight Protestant and evangelical churches were targeted.

A grenade was hurled at police officers who were trying to save a Presbyterian church. Three officers and a civilian were killed and 14 others injured.

With uneasy calm returning to the city, the Rev. Peter Karanja, National Council of Churches of Kenya general secretary, said he thanked Christians for showing restraint.

“We seek peaceful and legal means to resolve our grievances,” he told a news conference 29 August in Nairobi.

The council’s offices in the coastal region were also attacked. “The council through the national committee and the regional office is engaged and is seeking to get to the bottom of issues to restore peace,” Karanja told ENInews.

Church leaders said they could not understand why the demonstrators associated the murder with churches. Rogo died when a van he was in, along with his wife and five other people, was sprayed with bullets. Word of the killing spread quickly through Twitter and Facebook, with some posts calling for attacks on Christians.

“We have had contact with Muslim leaders and they have assured that they are not behind the violence. We believe … this is not a religious attack,” Karanja said.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Boniface Lele of Mombasa said Christians are now living in fear although many still come to church. “I think they want to chase Christians away from the coastal region,” he said in an interview.

The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslim, (Supkem) a body uniting all Kenyan Muslims, condemned the attacks and called for calm. “The burning of churches is against our faith. Those responsible must be arrested,” said Sheikh Muhdhar Khitamy, Supkem’s coastal region chairperson.

Sources said Christians and Muslims leaders were holding a joint peace meeting following the riots.