By Henry D Gombya
Reports reaching London this morning say at least 17 people have been killed in what appears to have been a coordinated attack during which gunmen shot and killed two Kenyan police officers outside the African Inland Church in Garissa, the capital of North Eastern Province before hurling grenades inside the church.
Worshippers fleeing in sheer panic were set upon by the gunmen who are said to have been wearing balaclavas and many of those dead were killed or injured during the stampede that followed. Garissa is a garrison town where most of the Kenyan troops on the way to Somalia are deployed from.
The second attack took place at another church where at least seven thugs wearing balaclavas threw hand grenades inside the church. So far, no one is reported to have died from the second attack although there have been many injuries.
AFP is reporting that the attack left several dead bodies scattered in the Garissa church. “It is a terrible scene. You can see bodies lying in the churches. You can imagine fort such a small town how police and medical services have been stretched trying to deal with this,” Kenyan Regional Police Commander Leo Nyongesa was quoted as saying.
These attacks have cast doubts over the way Kenyan police is coping with the threat posed by Al-Shabaab militants since the country invaded Somali and later joined the African Union forces now operating in Somalia. Garissa is approximately 100 km (60 miles) from Dadaab Refugee Camp where Al-Shabaab gunmen kidnapped four aid workers and killed a driver last Friday. Today’s attack comes a week after another grenade attack left three people killed last Sunday in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city.
Since Kenya entered the war against Somali militants, Al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks inside Kenya fulfilling their threat to take the war to Kenyans in their own country. The efficiency of Kenyan security forces to protect Kenyans has since been called into question even after Kenyans forces reported they had secured the Kenya-Somali frontier after capturing the port city of Kismayo that Al-Shabaab was using as its headquarters and point of weapons supply.
The country’s border with Somalia has been tense since Kenyan troops joined those from Uganda, Burundi and Ethiopia to fight the Somali militants who for a long time had been in control of the country’s capital Mogadishu. Kenya is home to many Somalis who in the last two decades have fled war in their country. Many have settled into the country making it their home and there is a section of Kenyans who are largely Somali because they were born on the Kenyan side of the Somali-Kenyan border.
Because of the presence of many Somalis in Kenya, it is quite easy for the militants to blend with Kenyans and stage their deadly attacks. Today’s attack has been condemned by the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims who called for the respect of all places of worship in the country. Al-Shabaab which means ‘the youth’ is a prominently Islamic terrorist organisation now officially allied to Al-Qaeda.