NAIROBI, Kenya – Seven Kenyans were charged in court on Monday with assaulting five police officers during a violent protest last week to demand the release of a radical Jamaican-born Muslim cleric.
Police also charged them with unlawful assembly, stealing and malicious damage to property during the protest in which several people were killed. The seven pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.
Soon afterward, An Associated Press reporter saw police arrest, within the court premises, the head of the Muslim Human Rights Forum, Al-Amin Kimathi, who had witnessed the hearing. Kimathi's group organized Friday's protest.
Kimathi's lawyer, Harun Ndubi, said he was shoved aside when he attempted to inquire from the plainclothes police officers why they were arresting his client.
In a related development, Nairobi police chief, Anthony Kibuchi, said police arrested late Sunday about 400 people in a crackdown on suspected sympathizers of an extremist Somali Islamic group.
The arrests follow a statement Kenyan Internal Security Minister George Saitoti made, blaming Friday's violence on sympathizers of al-Shabab. Saitoti said his Saturday statement was based on intelligence reports but did not offer any other details.
In neighboring Somalia, al-Shabab is fighting to overthrow the government. The U.S. State Department has designated the group a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida.
"We are removing these people who are creating problems," Kibuchi said, indirectly referring to claims that al-Shabab sympathizers are in Kenya.
Prosecutor Joseph Musyoka said out of the 400 arrested, 152 of them will be charged later Monday with being in the country illegally. Musyoka said if found guilty they will be fined up to $1,333 and deported immediately.
The arrests have been criticized by Kenyan Muslims who are accusing the government of discrimination.
"I want to burn my identity card," said Mohammed Abdul outside the magistrate's court where his brother was among the 152 people to be charged. "As (Kenyan) Somali(s) we are being branded as al-Shabab or pirates. Is it because of our religion?"
A Somali diplomat in Nairobi, Mohamed Osman Aden, said 12 Somali lawmakers were among the 400 arrested Sunday. A Nairobi court released two of them after finding they were in the country legally.
Aden said the Somali embassy has sent a protest letter to Kenya's foreign ministry.
Friday's protest was called to demand the release of Sheik Abdullah el-Faisal, who Kenya is trying to deport because the government considers him a threat to the country's security. The Muslim Human Rights Forum said at least five people were killed when police shot at demonstrators and not seven as had been earlier reported. The government says only one person died.
A similar protest in the coastal town of Mombasa was peaceful.
Britain has said that el-Faisal's teachings heavily influenced one of the men who carried out the London bombings that killed 52 people. The cleric served four years in a British jail for inciting murder and stirring racial hatred by urging followers to kill Americans, Hindus and Jews. El-Faisal was released in 2007 and deported to Jamaica. He stayed there until early 2009 when he traveled to Africa, Jamaican officials have said.
El-Faisal arrived in Kenya on Dec. 24, but immigration officials at a border point did not know who he was because a database that has a watch list was shut down while new software was being installed. Kenyan authorities only realized he was in the country a week later.