Nairobi, Kenya -- Kenyan police said on Wednesday they had arrested 146 members of a shadowy religious sect, part of a crackdown sparked by the group's vow to seize control of public transport routes throughout the country.
Police have accused followers of Mungiki, a banned sect preaching a return to traditional African values, of creating a public disturbance and launched a drive in recent weeks to stamp out the group's activities and curb its influence.
"We have 146 members in custody," police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said. "We have held them in custody because we intend to charge them for various offences, including creating disturbances and being in possession of offensive weapons."
Mungiki leader Ibrahim Ndura Waruinge has also been arrested and is in police custody. "We will charge him with as many offences as we can find," Kimanthi said. "Mungiki is not a registered organisation, it is illegal."
Little is known of the sect which appears to be growing in popularity, especially among young and unemployed Kenyans. Waruinge has said the group has four million followers, but there is no independent confirmation of his claims.
The sect's leader was arrested after appearing on an independent television channel last week and declaring his group would take control of all minibus, or matatu, routes in Kenya.
Authorities have denied Waruinge's boasts that he has recruited thousands of members within the police and military.
Mungiki is believed to have emerged in the 1980s. Its male followers, many of whom wear dreadlocks, see themselves as the sons of the Mau Mau movement which fought a violent rebellion against British colonists in the 1950s.
While initially following the animist traditions of the Kikuyu tribe, the leadership of the sect converted to Islam last year and called for implementation of sharia, the Muslim legal code.