Kenya Cops Arrest 7 Suspected in Sect Beheadings

Seven people have been arrested in connection with six beheadings that are believed to be the work of a banned religious sect in Kenya, police said Wednesday.

The beheadings over the weekend in villages on the outskirts of Nairobi came weeks after members of the Mungiki sect fought with the police over control of minibus terminals, where they have been extorting money from drivers.

"Seven people connected to the beheadings have been arrested," said Eric Kiraithe, a spokesman for the national police. "We are very keen to find any of those people associated with Mungiki. It is an illegal association."

No charges have yet been filed against the seven, who were rounded up along with more than 200 others, most of whom were released, Kiraithe said.

Mungiki is believed to have thousands of adherents, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe. Members pray facing Mount Kenya, which the Kikuyu traditionally believed to be the home of their supreme deity. The sect also has encouraged respect for traditions like female genital mutilation and using tobacco snuff.

Mungiki, whose name means multitude in the Kikuyu language, was banned in 2002 after members killed more than 20 people in a Nairobi slum.

The latest attacks took place in Muranga, 38 miles north of the capital, and Kiambu, 25 miles outside the city.

Minibuses — known as matatus — are the main form of public transport in Kenya. Mungiki members have fought with minibus owners for years over control of the lucrative bus stops.

The violence has raised fears that Mungiki members are out to disrupt the general elections in December, when President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term. Violent clashes have broken out during election years in 1992, 1997 and 2002.

Mungiki "is out to demonstrate that it can operate and strike with impunity anywhere and everywhere," the Daily Nation newspaper said this week in a front page editorial, below pictures of four of the six men who were decapitated. "It is out to show the police and other government organs are feeble, helpless and unable to protect anyone who defies it."