Somalis and Muslims fear backlash after Kenya blasts

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2011 6:08 PM
Somalis and Muslims fear backlash after Kenya blasts

By Aaron Maasho

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ethnic Somalis in Nairobi prepared for a possible backlash on Tuesday after explosions in the Kenyan capital following the country's military foray into Somalia.

Two grenade blasts killed one person and wounded more than 20 on Monday, two days after the U.S. embassy warned of an imminent attack in the east African country.

The blasts occurred more than a week after Kenya sent troops into neighboring Somalia to fight al Shabaab militants, whom it accuses of carrying out a string of kidnappings on its turf.

While police have not linked al Shabaab directly to the blasts, residents of Nairobi's ethnic Somali-dominated district of Eastleigh worried they might come under suspicion.

Armed soldiers guarding the premises of Moi Airbase in Eastleigh cast a suspicious eye on passersby as a bulldozer plowed through wasteland that was once held rundown but thriving stalls owned by Somalis.

One security official told Reuters they were clearing up the area for expansion, but residents said they believed it was an attempt to secure the area and deter potential attackers.

"Al Shabaab issued a threat and all vendors were kicked out all of a sudden," said a young Somali man who declined to be named.

Al Shabaab is fighting to topple the internationally backed government in Mogadishu and impose its own harsh version of sharia, Islamic law, on the Horn of Africa nation. It has also launched attacks in Kampala and threatened to do so in Kenya.

Kenyan officials say the rebels have cells in Eastleigh, a ramshackle suburb lined with rows of dilapidated apartment blocks, and that its Somali residents regularly provide the Somali militants with funds.

Reuters reporters have seen al Shabaab fighters in the district, sometimes returning for medical treatment, and Somali parents living there complain that some mosques actively recruit youths to fight for al Shabaab.

REPRISAL FEAR

There are growing calls within Kenya for a crackdown on Shabaab sympathizers.

"You might be seeing a bustling Eastleigh now, but it gets completely empty by dark," said a Somali street vendor, who also declined to be named. "People are scared and believe that there could be reprisals or arrests."

In another eastern suburb between Eastleigh and the city center, the Majengo Mosque towers above another Nairobi slum, its minarets casting a long shadow over a market and numerous stalls.

Suspicion runs deep in the area. According to a United Nations monitoring group report on Somalia released in July, funds donated for the mosque's reconstruction have been channeled to al Shabaab.

U.N. investigators said al Shabaab had also succeeded in recruiting Kenyan Muslim youths, and that some of its members originated in the area.

Some Majengo residents demanded more security. "The situation is not okay. We are all afraid of attacks by extremists," resident Zedekiah Makori told Reuters by the mosque. "There is certainly a need for more security around places like these, and groups should be scrutinized."

Sudi Mohammed, a self-employed businessman, said he feared government measures might spark attacks on the community. "It has not happened so far, but it likely will in the long run if they are not careful," he said.

Abdirahman Mohammed, a 25-year-old native of Mogadishu, told Reuters in Eastleigh that he doubted al Shabaab was behind Monday's attacks and hoped the community would not suffer.

"I think some one else is trying to take advantage of the situation. I don't believe al Shabaab is behind the explosions," he said. "We don't have guns and we left Somalia because we wanted peace. It would be unfair to target us."

(Editing by David Clarke)