|Images are screen grabs from KTN Kenya TV: Church attack in Garissa|
Kenya (MNN) ― At last report, at least 18 died and more than 60 were wounded in Sunday's church attack in northeastern Kenya.
Masked militants, believed to have an al Shabaab connection, crossed the Somalia border and attacked the Africa Inland Church (AIC) and Catholic Church in Garissa. Open Doors President and CEO Carl Moeller explains, "This is a region of Kenya that is exposed to a huge refugee population from Somalia.
Throughout those refugee camps, radical Islam in the form of al Shabaab and terrorism has been permeating those camps." The town is also near the large Dadaab Refugee Camp is located, where in the past week four aid workers were abducted but eventually freed.
Eyewitness told Open Doors that first, the gunmen threw grenades into the church, and then, as church goers fled from the explosives, the gunmen shot them as they exited the building. Even as he described the situation, Moeller said, "The church is a soft target, and this should be seen for what it is: a huge human rights and persecution tragedy."
Eyewitnesses were deeply shocked by the aftermath of the attacks. Moeller says, "The church in Kenya has been largely an island of stability, although they've been hard pressed as Islam does intrude more and more radical Islam into the culture."
"We heard something like stones being thrown on top of the roof. Then we realized that we were being shot at," said Mr. Dennis Nzioki who was attending the AIC worship service at the time of the attack. Police say they have identified suspects, no but one has been arrested in connection to the attacks yet.
Then, the inevitable question came: could this be just the beginning of more violence? Moeller agrees with speculation that radical Islamists are only using the tense atmosphere in these regions to get rid of the Christian presence in these Somali dominated border regions. However, he says, "It's our prayer that the church in Kenya will remain in peace and that this sort of violence will not be retaliated."
Meanwhile, 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 Sunday's church attacks. "Places of worship... should be respected," he said.
Although fear seems to be the initial reaction to the attacks, Moeller says church leaders appear strong in the midst of the difficult circumstances. "The impact as a result is that those Christians that are remaining there (and we just continue to pray for peace in the region), that they become those agents of peace, that they become those agents of hope."
Open Doors is planning to visit the church in the next few days to offer encouragement and to determine the need for further support. Africa Inland Mission's Regional Executive Officer Marvin Smith, in a written statement released by Africa Inland Mission, said, "Join us in prayer for the families who lost loved ones, martyred for their desire to worship God and grow in the Lord. Many of the wounded have been airlifted to hospitals in Nairobi, so pray also for their quick recovery. Pray also for the Africa Inland Church as they receive and respond to this event. While we do not understand why this happened, we can trust our Faithful Creator to work all things for His glory. "
Moeller went on to describe another attack that has been overshadowed by the Garissa incident: "In a separate incident Sunday morning, a large church in Nairobi, Nairobi Lighthouse Church, was attacked by 15-20 armed men, who forced the entire congregation to lie on the floor in order to rob everyone of all their possessions. They also stole money and other items from the church offices. Our Kenyan Short Term Assistant, Janet Ngarika normally attends the church, but she did not attend yesterday. These incidents against churches in Kenya remind us to take our faith seriously as we live in uncertain times."
Please pray for the Lord's comfort for the bereaved. Pray that justice will be done. Pray for Open Doors workers as they investigate the attacks and determine an appropriate response.