Police in Kenya Kill 22 in Gun Battles Over Sect

Nairobi, Kenya - The police killed 22 suspects and arrested 100 during overnight gun battles as they stormed a Nairobi slum in search of members of an outlawed sect accused in a string of beheadings, officials said Tuesday.

The action against the suspected members of the sect, the Mungiki, came after two police officers were shot dead in the Mathare slum on Monday.

“The police mounted an operation to crack down on those who were behind the killing,” said a police spokesman, Eric Kiraithe. More than 100 people tried to obstruct the operation, and a shootout began, he said.

Members of the Mungiki are suspected in the deaths of at least 18 people in the past three months, including 10 found mutilated or beheaded since the beginning of May. The latest beheadings were overnight in Muranga, 40 miles north of Nairobi, at the same time as the gun battles, the police said.

A freelance television journalist videotaped the raid in Mathare, showing a senior police official, Julius Ndegwa, standing over the body of an officer killed Monday night. Mr. Ndegwa exhorted more than a dozen police officers surrounding him to “clamp down on these elements.”

The tape also shows officers kicking and beating people as gunfire pops in the background.

Mungiki faxed a statement to Kenya Television Network on Tuesday, saying that the battles had killed just one of its members.

Bramwel Ochieng, 25, who lives in Mathare, said the police had taken too long to act against the Mungiki. The group also is accused of extorting money from minibus drivers.

“These people have terrorized us for years,” he said. “Police know about them, but they take bribes and leave.”

The violence has raised fears that Mungiki members are out to disrupt the elections in December, when President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term.

The president said Friday that those behind the violence had acted as if they had a right to kill.

“No one has such a right, and if you do that and hide wherever you can, we will get you,” Mr. Kibaki said.

The Mungiki is believed to have thousands of adherents, all from the Kikuyu, one of Kenya’s largest tribes. The group, whose name means “multitude” in the Kikuyu language, was inspired by the bloody Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s against the British.