Attack on two Kenyan churches leaves 17 dead


NAIROBI – Masked assailants launched simultaneous gun and grenade raids on two churches in a Kenyan town yesterday, killing at least 17 people in the worst attack in the country since Kenya sent troops into Somalia to crush al-Shabaab militants.

More than 60 people were wounded in the attacks in Garissa, the north Kenya town which has been used as a base for operations against al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in Somalia.

“This is the worst single attack since October, when our troops went into Somalia,” national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said. “It is the worst in terms of the numbers killed, the manner of execution, the anger behind it and the anguish it has aroused as well as the national impact it has had.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks in Garissa, a largely Muslim town of 150,000 with a significant ethnic Somali population. Police said they suspected al-Shabaab sympathisers or bandits may have been behind the raids, but it was too early to say. In Somalia, al-Shabaab declined to comment.

Regional deputy police chief Philip Ndolo said from Garissa that seven attackers had hurled grenades into the Catholic Church and the African Inland Church (AIC) and then opened fire with assault rifles. They struck the churches, situated 3km (two miles) apart, at about 10.15 am. Two policemen guarding the AIC church following previous attacks were among those killed.

“The goons were clad in balaclavas,” said Mr Ndolo. “You can imagine for such a small town how the police and medical services have been stretched trying to deal with this.”

Television footage showed benches knocked over at the AIC church and blood pooled on the floor and spattered over the walls. Garments, shoes and bibles were strewn around.

Police milled outside the churches, which were cordoned off by investigators who were picking at fragments and taking notes. “We have 17 bodies at the mortuary so far,” regional medical officer Abdikadir Sheikh said.

Paul Mwalali (52), a worshipper at the AIC church, told the Daily Nation newspaper he heard objects hit the roof before explosions rocked the church. “I had a front-row seat in the church. I heard something fall on the roof. Then there was a huge explosion. I [fell] on the ground. Then there was shooting and people were screaming,” he said.

The attacks were the latest on Christian worshippers in Kenya after two people were killed in grenade blasts in March and April in Nairobi and Mombasa.

The latest co-ordinated assault resembled the tactics of Nigeria’s Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has killed hundreds of people on the other side of the continent since the movement started its uprising more than two years ago. – (Reuters)