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Three feared dead as Al-Shaabab militia engage officers in Mombasa shootout

Police line up youths flushed out from the Musa Mosque in Majengo, Mombasa Sunday after storming the building to arrest those attending an outlawed jihadist convention. [Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard]

By Stanley Mwahanga, Benard Sanga and Ishaq Jumbe

Mombasa, Kenya: A police officer and two Islamic militants are feared dead following an assault on the controversial Musa Mosque, in the sprawling Majengo slums of Mombasa.

Militant youth sources claimed police stormed the mosque while worshippers were having lunch and without provocation, but police said they moved after being fired upon from several directions inside the mosque.

By 6pm Sunday, the nearby Sakina mosque was also under security lockdown. Hundreds of police officers were brought in from across the coastal city to patrol the streets amid reports that militants were also beefing up their numbers from Kisauni, Likoni and Kwale to confront the police. The two mosques have been under the control of what the police said are militant Islamic youth including returnees from Somalia who have trained with Al-Shabaab.

The severely injured police officer at the Musa Mosque was slashed with a sharp object and sustained deep cuts on the head. Police reports, confirmed by independent eyewitnesses, indicated that the militants, who barricaded themselves in bathrooms, toilets and minarets fought back with guns, machetes, meat cleavers, scissors and iron bars.

The storming of the mosque sparked protests by youths who barricaded the streets with burning tyres and shut down Mombasa’s downtown for hours.

Reports showed that two bodies were lying in the mosque last evening after the injured police officer had been carried out.

Following several unheeded warnings, police opted to storm the controversial mosque after firing stun grenades and teargas to flush out the militants that had occupied it to conduct a banned jihadist convention.

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The officer went missing during the storming of the mosque, according to fellow policemen who later found him slumped inside with his rifle missing.

His head appeared to have been hit with a blunt object and back of his neck slashed in more than one place. As he was carried away, it was not clear if he was still breathing.

As the assault was in progress, militants announced on the mosque’s loudspeaker “we are holding a hostage and will decapitate him if the police do not leave the mosque.”

  However, the officers ignored the warning and continued sweeping through the mosque firing teargas and forcing their way through all four floors. They arrested dozens of youth.

At about 5.30pm, police captured one of the last strongholds near the mosque’s qibla where the G-3 rifle snatched from the injured officer was found hidden under the carpet.

A woman cuddling a naked baby was found together with a 42-year-old man, Hemed Salim, who police claimed was trying to conceal the firearm.

Also carted away were seven laptops and compact discs, machetes and metal implements recovered from fleeing militants. Police suspect Mr Salim was among the leaders in the convention, a claim he denied strongly saying he was a worshipper.

Conveners

“I was only praying inside this mosque with my wife and child,” he said, but the woman he was referring to as his wife denied his claim.

He and two other women who were also arrested while cooking for the conveners and claimed to have strayed into the mosque from a nearby private hospital were detained.

Police also recovered an AK-47 rifle they said was used by the militants and announced that 30 bullets seized from the injured officer were still missing.

The banned jihad convention called by a previously unknown militant group was first announced last week through Facebook postings that were traced to followers of slain radical Islamist Sheikh Aboud Rogo who used to preach in the mosque. It was later broadcast using loudspeakers and leaflets in the area.

Reports show that Rogo’s son was among those detained. He wept bitterly saying that he had been deceived into attending yesterday’s session.

Reliable reports show that no less than 500 people, mostly men were inside the mosque, which was left a mess after the vicious exchange. It is not clear who was leading the convention that Mombasa County Police Commander Robert Kitur described as a “radicalisation and training session.” The planners brazenly placed black jihadist messages on the mosques and adjoining streets and handed out leaflets before the start of the convention.

Controversial mosque

“We want to end this matter once and for all,” declared Henry Ondiek, the Mombasa County CID director, amid bursts of gunfire outside the mosque, as officials hinted that the controversial mosque might be shut down all together.

The Standard learnt that no less than 300 alleged militants, including three women were among those captured in the raid that was still in progress as we went to press.

Police refused to confirm reports that an officer wounded in the attack inside the mosque was dead. “Only a doctor can confirm death,” said Mr Kitur, who disclosed that two officers were injured in the attack.

He said: “They are using children as human shields.” The storming of the mosque, which began at about 2pm after a seven-hour stakeout by police, was bitterly resisted by the radicals.

As police stormed the mosque, militant youths some as young as 10 years fought back with guns and machetes while those outside pelted the officers with rocks.

Unconfirmed reports said a militant who recently returned from Somalia and identified only as “Usama” or “Rambo” was behind the convention.

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