Kenyan police arrest members of sect blamed for murders

Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyan police have arrested 17 members of the banned Mungiki sect, blamed for a string of murders and beheadings, while they were on their way to an oath-taking ceremony, an official said Tuesday.

The suspects, including three women, were nabbed Monday near Mount Kenya, about 130 kilometres (81 miles) northeast of the capital, said provincial police commander Philip Ndwiga.

Police also recovered an assortment of crude weapons, including machetes and knives, and five goats they say were to be slaughtered during the ceremony at the mountain still considered sacred by some ethnic Kikuyu elders.

"We intercepted them as they proceeded to the mountain. We suspect they were planning to take oaths and commit other criminal activities," Ndwiga said.

"They will be taken to court to face various charges, including being members of an outlawed group and holding an illegal assembly."

Once a religious group of dreadlocked youths who embraced traditional rituals, authorities say the sect has morphed into a ruthless gang blamed for criminal activities including extortion and murder.

Since March, the sect has been blamed for murdering at least 42 people, with 14 beheaded, mainly in Nairobi slums and central Kenya.

Police responded with a heavy-handed crackdown, killing scores of Mungiki adherents.