Police shoot dead seven suspected Kenya sect members

NAIROBI — Seven suspected members of Kenya's Mungiki sect, notorious for its beheadings, were shot and killed in a police operation in Nairobi overnight, police said Thursday.

The gunbattle erupted late Wednesday when police acted on a mob that was attacking motorcyclists to extort money from them, a senior police officer said.

"Those killed were in a group of over 20 who were ambushed as they terrorised motorcycle taxi drivers who had declined to pay them the illegal taxes they levy," the officer said.

"They all started running away while attacking the police. Seven of them were shot dead while the others escaped," he said.

The Mungiki sect officially announced in October last year its dissolution and transformation into a political movement. Its members are notorious for racketeering, notably in the public transport sector.

"I was woken by heavy gunfire just near my house and I thought we were under attack," said Jacob Mwanza, a mechanic who lives near the scene of the shootout.

"When it cooled down, I peeped through the window and saw a lot of police and residents at the scene.

"It was a bloody scene, there were people lying dead and it was so scary. We hear it is the Mungikis who have been terrorising us here," he said.

The sect had been a group of mainly unemployed youths who worshipped spirits in Mount Kenya and embraced rituals such as female circumcision, while also rejecting Westernisation and Christianity.

The group, which claimed to have been founded by Mau Mau fighters who fought British colonial rule, was banned in 2002 but continued to operate.