Members of the Somali community in the Kenyan capital Nairobi have voiced fears that the militant attack on a Nairobi shopping mall could trigger a violent backlash against them, Reuters reports. The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab said it carried out the raid on the Westgate shopping center. At least 62 people have been killed in the attack, which al-Shabab said was in revenge for Kenya’s military campaign against its fighters in Somalia, says Reuters.
Memories are still fresh of the mobs who targeted Somali homes and shops in Nairobi in November after a suspected al-Shabab attack on a minibus killed nine people, Reuters reports.
Muslims make up about 11% of Kenya’s 40-million-strong population, which is made up of a patchwork of ethnic groups. Islam has long been the predominant religion on Kenya’s eastern coast and there have been sporadic outbursts of sectarian violence in the port city of Mombasa, heightened since riots last August after Aboud Rogo, a Muslim man accused by the U.S. of helping al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, was shot dead. Many Muslims blamed Rogo’s death on the Kenyan police (who denied involvement), resulting in violent clashes with the police and attacks against Christian churches, Reuters reports.
Local politicians and religious leaders of all faiths have appealed for Kenyans to stay calm, Reuters reports. The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims — the body that administers Muslim affairs in Kenya — condemned the raid on the mall as a “heinous terror attack” and called for Kenyans not to be divided along sectarian lines, says Reuters. And the Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu, speaking during a Sunday service in Mombasa, called for unity and prayers. “We have seen the devil in his true colors. Our faith as Kenyans has been tested,” he said according to Reuters. “Let us unite as a Kenyan family in this grief, regardless of our religious affiliations.”