At least four people were killed as Muslims rioted and set fire to a Christian community centre in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa on Friday, after a radical imam with alleged links to al-Shabaab was shot dead the night before. Police fired tear gas and live rounds as they tried to break up gangs of dozens of young men armed with sticks and throwing stones roaming parts of the city centre after Friday prayers.
The Foreign Office warned British visitors to "avoid large public demonstrations and crowded areas" following the riots. Shops were shuttered by early afternoon as traffic sped out of the city. It was the first significant outbreak of violence in Kenya since al-Shabaab terrorists took control of Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall a fortnight ago.
Muslim leaders at the mosque where the dead cleric preached had earlier denied that they helped assemble the team that attacked the mall. Tourists at beach resorts north of Mombasa lay in the sun apparently unaware of the running battles taking place between police and protesters just a few miles away.
The Salvation Army Worship Centre, a Christian social hall, was partly destroyed in a fire started by the Muslim gangs, who had streamed out of the nearby Musa Mosque at 1pm. Roads were blocked as youths set fire to rubbish, blocking traffic. Cars were attacked and left with broken windscreens. Smoke from tear gas lobbed by riot police drifted through the streets, sending commuters fleeing. The clashes erupted the day after four people were shot dead in a car as they drove along the main road leading from Mombasa to tourist hotels in the north.
Among them was Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail, a hardline Muslim cleric who preached at the Musa Mosque, which has been linked to other imams accused of recruiting for Somalia's al-Qaeda proxy, al-Shabaab. One of those imams, Sheikh Abubakar Makaburi" Shariff, said that police "assassinated" the four men "in retaliation" for the Westgate Shopping Centre terrorist attack in Nairobi. "The police are killing people while saying it is a war against terrorism, this is a war against Islam," Mr Makaburi said. "These people have been executed."
Robert Kitur, Mombasa county's police commander, denied this, saying: "That is not how my officers operate." Ismael's death bore the hallmarks of the assassination of another radical preacher, Aboud Rogo, in August last year, whose death also prompted deadly riots in Mombasa. Both Mr Rogo and Makaburi are on UN watch lists over their alleged roles recruiting radicalised young Muslims and arranging for them to travel to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab. Makaburi has denied reports that he helped recruit the Westgate attackers.
Jermaine Grant, a British man currently on trial in Mombasa on charges of planning bomb attacks, attended the Musa mosque while he was allegedly plotting with Samantha Lewthwaite to attack tourist hotels in December 2011.