Kenyan police have arrested a Muslim cleric on a U.N. sanctions list over his alleged support of an al-Qaida-linked militant group in neighboring Somalia, a rights activist said Friday.
The arrest signals the start of a Kenyan government clampdown on alleged supporters of the militants, who are blamed for a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil. The Kenyan government sent troops into Somalia last weekend, saying they intend to attack the key city held by the insurgency and wipe them out as a fighting force.
In response, the militants have threatened to bomb Kenya and the government has tightened security.
Imam Hassan Mahat Omar was one of 10 people arrested Thursday, said Al-Amin Kimathi of the Kenya-based Muslim Human Rights Forum.
Two of those arrested in the swoop are doctors who run a clinic in the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh. They were charged in court Friday for being members of Somalia's al-Shabab militant group, which is outlawed in Kenya.
Lawyer Chacha Mwita, who represented the two, said they are Kenyans and own the Afwan Medical clinic, which was accused in a July U.N. report of financially assisting al-Shabab.
The two doctors, Dr. Ali Omar Salim and Dr. Adan Hassan Hillow, pleaded not guilty to charges of engaging in an organized criminal activity by being al-Shabab members.
Chief Magistrate Gilbert Mutembei allowed police to hold the suspects in custody for two more days to complete investigations.
The other detainees did not appear in court.
A senior policeman confirmed that Omar had been arrested but did not divulge when or if he would be charged. He asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Mwita, a human rights lawyer, said he had been trying to trace Omar but police refused divulge his whereabouts.
He fears police are planning deport Omar to Somalia since they have not charged him within 24 hours of arrest as required by constitution. Omar's nationality is unclear, though the U.N. describes him as possibly being Ethiopian. Kenyan authorities have previously illegally and secretly deported both Kenyans and foreigners.
In July, the U.N. Security Council said Omar was subject to a travel ban and asset freeze because he helped lead an informal center that recruited new members and solicited funds for al-Shabab.
On Monday, al-Shabab threatened to launch suicide attacks similar to the ones which killed 76 people watching the World Cup final in Uganda last year. Al-Shabab said that attack was a response to Uganda sending troops to support the weak U.N.-backed government.
Kenya has issued a terror alert and increased security in Nairobi.
Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki said Thursday the government will pursue al-Shabab and their sympathizers both in and outside of Kenya. Some officials say the Somali group has its logistical hub in Kenya.
A deputy security minister on Wednesday told parliament that al-Shabab "is like a big animal with a tail in Somalia. We are still fighting the tail while the head is resting here in Eastleigh."