NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Somalia’s Islamic extremist Al Shabaab rebels attacked a predominantly Christian town onKenya’s coast Sunday night (June 15), selecting out Christian males as they killed more than 57 people, area sources said.
The estimated 50 Al Shabaab militants attacked two hotels, a police station and other buildings in Mpeketoni, in Lamu County, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Somali border, in a five-hour assault with guns and grenades that began after 8 p.m. Al Shabaab reportedly took responsibility for the attack, saying it was to avenge Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia and the killing of Muslims.
Sources told Morning Star News the assailants were chanting “Allahu Akbar [God is Greater]” and killing whoever could not recite verses from the Koran.
“The attackers entered my house, took my boy out of the house, then killed him by shooting him, leaving my wife and daughters inside,” one pastor told Morning Star News.
Pastors in Mpeketoni told Morning Star News the town is only 5 percent Muslim, and that most of the people killed were Christians. In two minibuses and two pick-up trucks, the gunmen entered the town, threw a grenade at a gas station and attacked an administrative police station. A pastor said gunmen then opened fire at a public venue where people were watching a World Cup soccer game, killing nine people.
Sources who visited Mpeketoni Mortuary today told Morning Star News they found 57 people killed in attack, though at press time officials said the toll stood at 48. Among the dead were six children of church pastors in Mpeketoni, mostly boys, said one source.
“As I walked down the streets of Mpeketoni town, the situation looked very gloomy, as some bodies were still lying beside the road,” said a source who requested anonymity.
One source told Morning Star News that seven Muslims were killed by accident in the course of the attacks.
On Monday morning (June 16), several bodies were found on the outskirts of Mpeketoni town, some of them taken to a mortuary in Malindi, which could bring the death toll to more than 100, sources said.
While several banks were damaged by grenades, the police station was the hardest hit; sources said eight policemen were killed, several police vehicles were destroyed and the station lay in ruins. The militants also reportedly went door-to-door asking residents their religion and killed them if they answered “Christian.”
Before arriving in Mpeketoni, the Al Shabaab rebels, who are linked with Al Qaeda, killed seven people in Kibaoni north of the town, sources said. Before arriving at Mpeketoni, the rebels also killed three people at Hongwe, they said.
Mpeketoni, on the mainland close to Lamu town, is fast-growing town more of than 50,000 people.
After the attack, the gunmen were said to have disappeared into the Boni Forest with police in pursuit.
Besides Al Shabaab claiming responsibility for the attacks, some eyewitness said that they saw the Islamic extremist militia’s black flag.
“The attackers were speaking in Somali and Kiswahili language,” said one source. “Some of the attackers looked like Arabs with light skin.”
All area churches were affected in some way by the attack, including the Full Gospel Church of Kenya in the town center.
“The majority of the residents of Mpeketoni are Christians; less than 5 percent are Muslims,” said one pastor.
In mourning and weeping after a night of wailing, churches in Mpeketoni request prayer and financial support as they grieve the losses, pastors said.
The bodies found today on the outskirts of Mpeketoni could render the assault the deadliest since the Al Shabaab attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall on Sept. 21, 2013, which killed at least 67 people.
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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