Christians Killed in Attacks in Coastal Region of Kenya

Amid ethnic and political conflicts, religion also appears as factor in killings.

By Our East Africa Correspondent

Tana River in county of the same name in Kenya. (Morning Star News via Wikipedia)

Tana River in county of the same name in Kenya. (Morning Star News via Wikipedia)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Two Christians near Kenya’s coast were killed Monday night (July 7) following attacks by suspected Islamic extremists over the weekend on two predominantly Christian villages that left more than 30 people dead, sources said.

In the attack Monday night, the assailants arrived at Covenant Church, three kilometers north of Hindi, just after the close of a Bible study; as those in the study fled, two men, Joseph Kangethe and Kenda Masha, opted to hide in the building, a source told Morning Star News. Kangethe and Masha died when the attackers set fire to the building, said the source, whose identity is undisclosed for security reasons.

A Catholic church building in the village of Gamba, in neighboring Tana River County, was also razed the same night. Gamba is about 46 kilometers (28 miles) from Mpeketoni, a predominantly Christian town where gunmen killed at least 57 people in a June 15 attack.

On Saturday night (July 5), gunmen attacked both Gamba and the village of Hindi, which is in Lamu County. In Hindi, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mpeketoni, 15 to 20 assailants with guns and knives killed at least 13 people, area sources told Morning Star News. Among the dead Christians was Ken Mangara, a 12-year-old student at Kibiboni primary school, and Kenya Kazungu, in his 30s, who was found in a pool of blood with a Bible on his back, the source said.

One survivor of the attack in Hindi said the assailants told non-Muslims to leave the area. “The attackers talked in Somali and Kiswahili [Swahili, Kenya’s national language], saying non-Muslims should get out, and if not they should convert to Islam,” she told Morning Star News.

Another survivor, a Christian whose husband was killed, fled to Mpeketoni, where she told Morning Star News the assailants torched several homes and a church building in Hindi and shot their weapons as little as possible to limit the sound of gunfire during the four-hour operation.

“I was removed with my daughter from the house while the attackers tied my husband to the bedside before setting the house on fire,” she said. “The attackers, who spoke mainly in Somali, targeted non-Muslims, whom they tied with ropes before slitting their throats.”

Among those who died when their homes were set ablaze was Steve Gichohi, who worked with a local Christian ministry group, sources said.

At 1 p.m. a government vehicle, a Land Cruiser pick-up truck, arrived in Mpeketoni from Hindi with 13 bodies, the source said.

“The bodies that arrived at Mpeketoni had their throats slit, with their hands tied behind their backs,” he said.

In the attack on Gamba on Saturday night (July 5), armed gunmen freed at least one Muslim prisoner suspected in last month’s massacre in Mpeketoni, sources said. Somalia’s Islamic extremist Al Shabaab rebels took responsibility for the June 15 attack on Mpeketoni, though Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed it on “local political networks.”

In the raid on the police station in Gamba, the gunmen freed three other Muslim prisoners and killed five non-Muslims who would not recite the Islamic conversion creed, sources said.

“They were eight in the prison cell,” said a source who visited the area. “The attackers asked if there were Muslims. Three said yes. The three were removed from the cell, and thereafter the others were killed with gunshots.”

The assailants killed at least one police officer in the raid and reportedly killed three other people in the course of hijacking their truck. A spokeseman for the Interior Ministry told Reuters that at least 20 people were killed in the Gamba area attack.

Suspicions for the weekend attacks fell on the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a separatist group claiming political and economic discrimination that the Kenyan government has banned as a “criminal gang” dominated by Islamic extremists. MRC head Randu Nzai Ruwa, however, denied the group’s involvement in the attack, according to Reuters. Al Shabaab, which has carried out retaliation killings in Kenya for its involvement in African Union forces fighting the rebels in Somalia, took responsibility for the killings in the two villages, though government officials were skeptical. Police said motives for the killings could be conflicts over politics, religion and land.

A note scrawled on a small blackboard from a school, found near a crossroads in Hindi, suggested the assaults came in retaliation for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia. “You invade Muslim country, and you want to stay in peace,” it read. “Kick Christians out [of] coast.”

A police spokesperson told reporters that a phrase on the blackboard indicated support for opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Eyewitness said that in both Hindi and Gamba, some attackers had their faces covered, while others were in military uniform. The Gamba group used automatic rifles as they stormed the police station. They first asked the officer on duty for the prisoner transferred from Mpeketoni. When he became suspicious and declined to respond, they immediately opened fire and killed him, sources said

Police described the confrontation as a “fierce shoot-out.”

Kenya’s Christians have suffered other violence recently. On March 23, gunmen entered a Sunday morning worship service in Mombasa County and sprayed the congregation with bullets, killing at least seven Christians and leaving several others in critical condition. Two heavily-armed men wounded more than a dozen of the 200-member Joy in Jesus Church in the Likoni area of Mombasa, where a mosque said to have ties with the Somali Islamic extremist group Al Shabaab has caused tensions.

No one has taken responsibility for the attack, which reportedly involved a third gunman outside the church building shooting at Christians fleeing the attack. Church leaders suspected Islamic extremists had carried it out in reprisal for a raid by armed police on the Masjid Musa Mosque (now Masjid Shuhada, or “Martyrs Mosque”) on Feb. 2, in which more than 100 Muslims were arrested and at least two were killed; most of those detained have been released.

Suspected Islamic extremists likely killed Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge, 59, an assistant pastor at Glory of God Ministries Church, in the Majengo area of Mombasa on Feb. 2 for sharing his faith near the Musa mosque and alerting authorities to security threats, sources said. Some youths reportedly raised the black flag of Al Shabaab at the mosque that day, when the raid by authorities touched off riots.

On Oct. 19, 2013, suspected Islamic extremists in Mombasa killed pastor Charles “Patrick” Matole of Vikwantani Redeemed Gospel Church following riots associated with the same mosque. Matole had received death threats. The murder came a few weeks after rioting in Mombasa by Muslims enraged at the killing of sheikh Ibrahim Omar and three others on a road near Mombasa (see Morning Star News, Oct. 7, 2013).

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