NAIROBI - In an effort to calm violent protests over the killing of a Muslim imam in the port city of Mombasa, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has accused foes of masterminding the murder to spark religious war in the country.
"We suspect the hand of the enemies of our country in this, those who want to create religious animosity," Odinga told reporters after addressing religious leaders in the city, Reuters reported.
"It is an attempt to try create a division between Christians and Muslims in our country so that it appears it is a religious war."
He said Kenya had many enemies, including abroad, after it sent troops into neighboring Somalia last October to fight the militant Al-Shabaab group.
The premier opined that the protests that followed the killing of Imam Aboud Rogo Mohammed were organized.
"Certainly, that is what it looks like."
Violent protests rocked Mombasa earlier this week after Rogo, who is accused by Washington of terror links, was shot dead while driving his wife to hospital.
His death sparked violent protests in the city that left at least five people, including three police officers, dead.
Rioters also set fire to at least six churches, stoking fears that the unrest may become more sectarian in a city where grenade attacks blamed on Somali militants and their sympathizers have already strained Muslim-Christian relations.
"Why deliberately attack churches? That must be part of an organized (reaction), Odinga said.
Where did the grenades come from? It confirms our suspicions that there is a serious underground organization conducting this.
Tense calm prevailed in the city on Wednesday amid complaints of police harassment of Muslim residents.
"It is getting better, but police should stop intimidating people, Margaret Mumo, owner of a chemist shop at Sabasaba, near Majengo neighborhood, told Reuters.
I closed my shop the whole of yesterday. Today am open but still very careful. I hear any noise I close immediately.
Supporters of imam Rogo have accused police of masterminding the imam's killing, a claim denied by the police.
On Tuesday, mobs of youths fired machineguns at police in Kisauni, a predominantly Muslim area, just before throwing a grenade into a police truck, police said. Two Kenyan police officers and a civilian were killed instantly.
One more police officer died on Wednesday of wounds inflicted in the grenade blast. One person was killed when the riots broke out on Monday.
Some 24 people arrested during the riots were charged in a Mombasa court On Wednesday for assembling illegally and they were remanded in custody for five days.
Police said although they had restored control to Mombasa, tension remained high.
"We do not have any problems this morning.... Even public transport is back to normal business, and shops have been opened," regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"We have made adequate deployment for street patrols to maintain peace."
There are nearly ten million Muslims in Kenya, which has a population of 36 million.Muslims make up nearly 98 percent of the communities of the North Eastern Province.