Kenyan cleric charged over riots

Mombasa, Kenya - A Kenyan Muslim cleric accused by Washington of supporting al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia was charged on Monday with inciting violent protests that rocked the port city of Mombasa last week.

Abubaker Sharif allegedly urged protesters to burn down churches and kill police officers in Kenya's second-biggest city during riots that killed five people, including three police.

File photo - Protesting Muslim youths stand next to burning tires in Mombasa, Kenya after Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric facing terror-related charges, was shot dead. Credit: AP

The violence followed the assassination of another Muslim cleric, Aboud Rogo, also accused by the United States of supporting militant group al-Shabaab - t he Islamist rebels Kenya's military have been battling since invading Somalia last year.

Sharif turned himself in at a court in Mombasa on Monday after an arrest warrant was issued against him last week. He said his life was in danger in the wake of the rioting.

“He, without lawful excuse uttered words that all sheikhs associated with the government, and who are government agents (should) be slaughtered,” the charge sheet read.

The cleric, who was accompanied by his lawyer and a group of activists, pleaded not guilty to the charges and was remanded in police custody until Wednesday.

Rogo, who had been facing charges of possessing weapons, was shot in his car by unknown attackers last Monday.

His supporters fought running street battles with security forces in the hours after his death, and sporadic violence continued over the following days. Churches were torched and two grenades were thrown at police vehicles.

The government said the violence was organised by Kenya's “enemies” and blamed Muslim radicals - including the slain cleric - for supporting al-Shabaab.

The violence stoked fears the unrest could become more sectarian in the city, a tourist hub and major Indian Ocean port, where grenade attacks blamed on Somali militants and their sympathisers have already strained Muslim-Christian relations.

Sharif had previously been arrested in December after a grenade attack on a bus in Nairobi killed one person. He, like Rogo, had been out on bail. The two are on a U.S. sanctions list for allegedly supporting al-Shabaab. - Reuters