Twenty killed in violence linked to Kenyan sect

At least 20 people - including two found beheaded - were killed in Nairobi overnight, and police said Friday they were looking into whether a banned sect that has terrorized the Kenyan capital was involved.

Three people - including the two who were beheaded - were found slain in Banana Hill on the outskirts of Nairobi, where police have been cracking down on the banned Mungiki sect, which is accused of a series of beheadings.

Kiplimo Rugut, the provincial commissioner of Central Province, said Mungiki was suspected in some or all of the overnight killings. "This is a possibility we are looking at," he told The Associated Press.

The Mungiki was inspired by the 1950s Mau Mau uprising against British rule and claims to have thousands of followers, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest tribe. Sect members pray facing Mount Kenya, which the Kikuyu believe to be the home of their supreme deity. But in recent years, it has been linked less with religion than with the hallmarks of any criminal gang - 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. The bloodshed has raised fears that Mungiki members are out to disrupt elections in December, when President Mwai Kibaki will seek a second term.

The group was outlawed in 2002 after at least 20 people were killed in fighting between it and another gang called the Taliban, whose members come from the Luo tribe of western Kenya.

In other violence overnight, police shot eight suspects who were trying to rob a warehouse of the Kenya Electricity Generating Company Ltd., said Julius Muthuri, police official in the industrial area of Nairobi.

"Police shot down eight suspects who wanted to rob KenGen," he said. KenGen produces about 80 percent of the electricity consumed in the country.

Another gun battle in the eastern Nairobi neighborhood of Kariobangi killed six people, according to another police officer who did not want his name used because he was not authorized to speak to the press. Someone also hurled a grenade into a restaurant, but everyone there had already fled because of the gunfire, witnesses said.

Elsewhere in the area, three others were killed by gunmen, said police officer Maina Migwi.