Kenyan police arrest members of sect blamed for murders

Nairobi, Kenya - Kenyan police arrested eight members of a banned sect, blamed for a string of murders and beheadings, while taking an illegal oath in the capital, an official said Wednesday.

The suspects, who belong to the Mungiki sect, were nabbed in the capital's Korogocho slums overnight Tuesday, said Nairobi divisional police commander Paul Ruto.

"The sect members had slaughtered a goat ready to undertake what is thought to be an oath associated with Mungiki," he said.

"We also recovered other parapharnelia, including machetes, usually associated with the sect," Ruto explained.

The new arrests came as a state-run human rights panel said it was probing disappearances and executions of people, whose bodies have been recovered in bushlands in Nairobi's southern outskirts in recent weeks.

Residents said uniformed police dumped some of at least a dozen bodies found around Kiserian settlement after shooting them at close range, Kenya's Daily Metro newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"We have found evidence that some people have been executed, but we do not know by who. We also have reports that some people have disappeared," said Maina Kiai, the head of state-run Kenya National Commission of Human Rights.

"We are in a process of collecting data and at the same time probing the incidents," Maina told AFP.

Police dismissed the claims, widely reported in local newspapers, that security forces were killing suspects linked to Mungiki, a politically-linked gang that was banned in 2002.

"This is an outrageous lie. You know this is an election year and people can say anything," national police spokesman Erick Kiraithe told AFP.

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

Since March, the gang has been accused of murdering at least 43 people -- beheading several of their victims -- mainly in Nairobi slums and central Kenya.

The wave of killings peaked in June, raising fears of widespread instability in Kenya ahead of general elections due in December, but a police crackdown that killed dozens of Mungiki suspects has since curbed the violence.