Kenya villagers, gang members clash; 24 killed

Nairobi, Kenya - Villagers in central Kenya clashed with members of an outlawed criminal gang for several hours overnight, killing at least 24 people, police said Tuesday.

Residents near the town of Karatina fought Mungiki members because the gang had been extorting money from them, deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said.

"What I know is that majority of the dead are Mungiki members," Owino told The Associated Press.

Mungiki emerged in the 1990s, inspired by the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial rule, and the gang has been linked to extortion, murder and political violence. The group is believed to have thousands of followers, drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe and the dominant force in politics and business.

Besides the dead, three people were seriously injured in the violence and police arrested 37 people, police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said. Police seized machetes, axes and clubs from the suspects, he said.

Residents reacted when Mungiki tried to expel people who came from a neighboring district, Kirinyaga, because members of Mungiki had been lynched in Kirinyaga, Kiraithe said.

Kiraithe urged members of the public to stop "using criminal violence to resist crime."

A Mungiki member told the AP the group had been extorting money from businesses in the area with the full knowledge of the police until Wednesday last week.

Police then switched sides and backed residents, who lynched members of Mungiki, the member said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. She did not say why the police turned against them.

Kiraithe said Mungiki members were "trying to justify crime by mudslinging."