MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan authorities are to investigate journalists and sources involved in an Al Jazeera documentary alleging that radical Muslim preachers were killed by police “death squads”.
At least three preachers accused of espousing militant ideas have been shot dead in Kenya by unidentified assailants in the past two years.
The state has repeatedly denied any involvement, despite accusations by Muslim activists and protesters. But Al Jazeera’s program, aired on Monday, included interviews with unnamed security sources who said they had carried out the killings as members of such squads.
The Interior Ministry said the government had “instructed relevant authorities to begin investigations with a view to bringing charges against those involved in Al Jazeera’s documentary”.
It said the documentary was “deliberately skewed to support and empathize with terrorists and their sympathizers”.
Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said the authorities were aware that visiting journalists, rather than Nairobi-based staff, had produced the piece. He said those involved might “not be very welcome” if they ever wanted to return to Kenya.
Al Jazeera, which is based in and funded by Qatar, said it was deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s threat against those involved in making the documentary.
“Al Jazeera urges the Government of Kenya (GoK) not to attack journalists or to curtail freedom of speech, but instead to confront the serious allegations that its agents commit extra-judicial killings,” the channel said in a statement.
Two police sources told Reuters that at least one of the three unnamed security sources who appeared as silhouettes in Al Jazeera’s program, entitled “Inside Kenya’s Death Squads”, had already been identified by the authorities.
Mombasa police chief Robert Kitur, who was meeting officials in Nairobi about the documentary, told Reuters: “We are mandated to protect Kenyans, not to kill them. We have never had a death squad within the police.”
He declined to comment on the details of the investigation.
Human rights groups say many of Kenya’s minority Muslim community feel alienated by tactics that have included shutting down mosques where the authorities say militant ideas have been spread, and by the arrests of scores of young men.
The authorities say the measures are needed to counter Islamist militancy in a country that has suffered a series of jihadist attacks. Many of them, including last year’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi where 67 people were killed, have been claimed by the Somali militant group al Shabaab.
President Uhuru Kenyatta last week told Kenya’s Muslims to unite with the government in its “war on terror” and root out militants and those who supported them.
Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Edmund Blair, Kevin Liffey, Larry King