Kenyan police raid ceremony of outlawed sect practicing beheadings

Kenyan police raided an initiation ceremony for an outlawed gang accused in a string of beheadings, sparking a gunbattle that killed seven suspects, authorities said.

About 70 people were accused of taking oaths to join Mungiki in Muranga district in the ceremony late Sunday, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Nairobi, said Provincial Commissioner Kiplimo Rugut.

Rugut said that during the raid, police officers "were shot at and they retaliated." Authorities said they retrieved two assault rifles and a pistol, along with blood and raw meat used in initiation rites.

Mungiki, which means "multitude" in Kikuyu, was inspired by the 1950s Mau Mau uprising against British rule but has become a street gang linked to murder, political violence and extortion. The group is suspected in the deaths of at least 20 people in the past three months, including 12 found mutilated or beheaded since May.

Kenya has a law against oath-taking dating to colonial days, when the Mau Mau forced members to take blood oaths.

Mungiki claims to have thousands of adherents, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe.

The violence comes at a tumultuous time in the Kenyan capital, where an explosion last month killed one person and wounded more than 30 during rush hour. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast. Since April, more than 100 people have been killed in a crime spree and police crackdown linked to Mungiki.

The bloodshed has raised fears that Mungiki members are out to disrupt the elections in December, when President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term. Police say they found leaflets allegedly circulated by the group calling on Kenyan youth to join up and prepare for an uprising against the government.