Gunmen Open Fire on Church in Mombasa, Kenyacomment (0)
March 24, 2014
MOMBASA, Kenya — Gunmen entered a Sunday morning worship service in Kenya’s coastal Mombasa County on March 23 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.
Among the dead was assistant pastor Phillip Musasa, sources said.
“The pastor had a head injury and succumbed to the injury while being rushed to the hospital,” said a pastor who visited victims. “I saw 10 of the survivors in the hospital, and they are in a critical state.”
Another pastor, also speaking anonymously due to security threats in the area, said hospitalized church members were in great pain. “Most of the victims need blood,” he said.
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 killed; most of those detained have been released.
“We as the church feel that what happened is a retaliation for the attack that took place in Masjid Musa Mosque recently,” said one church leader. “When the Muslims are attacked, there is a false generalization that the Christians are the ones doing it. We as the church became a scapegoat for the recent attack on the mosque.”
Authorities believe the mosque has been used as a recruitment center for Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated militia waging war in neighboring Somalia. Two months ago authorities issued a warning of possible major attacks in the area and recently arrested two suspects found with powerful explosives. Police reportedly suspected Al Shabaab militants for the Joy in Jesus Church attack.
A pastor who requested anonymity said he suspected Al Shabaab sympathizers. “We suspect this is a group of radical Muslim youth who support the Al Shabaab militia that is gaining root here in Mombasa,” he said.
Another pastor said the assault was “a planned attack aimed at creating fear in church members, which in turn will weaken the presence of the church in the coastal region of Kenya.”
Authorities have arrested scores of people for questioning but not the primary, unidentified suspects. After the shooting, the assailants tried to attack the nearby Redeemed Gospel Church, known as the Jesus Celebration Center, Christian leaders said.
“Fortunately, they could not get inside the church because they found armed police men manning the place,” said one pastor. “As the attackers fled Joy in Jesus Church [also known as Joy in Christ Church], a box holding 26 bullets dropped outside the church.”
Bishop Wilfred Lai, senior pastor of the Redeemed Gospel Church and chairman of the County Church Forum, said area Christians will not be deterred.
“We as the body of Christ in the coastal region of Kenya will stand firm in spite of the cruel act of terrorism,” he said.
At about 5 p.m. March 23, government officials convened a meeting of security agents, Christian pastors and Islamic leaders to discuss maintaining peace in the coastal region of Kenya. Mombasa County Gov. Hassan Ali Joho urged religious leaders to preach peaceful co-existence and tolerance. (Morning Star News)