At least 18 people have died while 66 have been wounded when assailants burst into the Africa Inland Church (AIC) and the Catholic Church, shooting at worshippers with firearms and detonating grenades. Details are still emerging, but eye-witnesses told Open Doors that the attackers first shot at point blank range the two policemen standing guard outside the AIC church, then took their guns and started shooting at worshippers.
As the churchgoers realized what was going on, they tried to flee. Many were shot dead as they attempted to escape. Eyewitnesses were deeply shocked by the attacks. “We heard something like stones being thrown on top of the roof. Then we realized that we were being shot at,” said Dennis Nzioki, who was attending the AIC worship service at the time of the attack. The attackers threw at least four grenades into the church. Two detonated; two others were later found intact. Two policemen guarding the AIC churches were among those killed. Four of the injured are in critical condition in Nairobi hospitals.
At the Catholic Church the attackers apparently jumped over a fence and started shooting at people standing near the church. Three church members were killed before the attackers fled.
Police said they have identified suspects in the attacks. “No arrests have been made but we have reports that five suspects were involved in the AIC attack while two suspects were involved in the Catholic Church attack,” said Deputy Regional Police Chief Philip Ndolo.
There is speculation that the attackers may be linked to the Somali rebel militant group al-Shabaab. Kenya has suffered a number of abductions as well as firearm, grenade and bomb attacks since October 2011 when the government sent troops into southern Somalia to target that al-Shabaab rebel group, which is fighting its UN-backed government. The atmosphere in areas close to the Somalia border, such as Garissa, has been particularly tense lately. However, some observers suspect that radical Islamists are using the tense atmosphere in these regions to eliminate the Christian presence in these Somali- dominated border regions.
Chairman Abdulghafur El-Busaidy of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims condemned Sunday’s church attacks; “All places of worship must be respected. We want to send our condolences, and we are sad that no arrests have been made yet.” Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka also condemned the attacks. “Places of worship should be respected,” he said.
Father, we come before You with saddened hearts after hearing of the attacks on Your people in Kenya, our brothers and sisters in Christ. First and foremost we lay at Your feet the suffering families of the victims, asking that You comfort them. As we naturally want to seek justice for these acts of violence, Father, we ask that you fill Christians in Kenya with an overwhelming sense of peace and forgiveness. We do, however, ask that justice be served and that the attackers be arrested, bringing an end to the violence that plagues the area near the Somalia border. And Father, as Open Doors workers go into the area to investigate the attacks, protect them and, allow them to return home safely to report back the best way to help the victims and believers in the area. Amen