MANDERA, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists from Somalia took responsibility for killing four Christians on Tuesday (March 17) and another on March 15 in northeastern Kenya.
Somali rebel Al Shabaab militiamen or their Somali sympathizers have carried out several attacks on Kenyan soil the past two years, usually separating out Christians and executing them, in retaliation for Kenya’s military involvement in the Somali government’s fight against the insurgents.
Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s shooting deaths of four Kenyan Christians at a money-transfer shop in Wajir. An explosion, either from a grenade or a fire set with gasoline, then burned the bodies beyond recognition, area sources said.
An eyewitness from the same church denomination and area in central Kenya as the four victims told Morning Star News the deceased were members of the East Africa Pentecostal Church (EAPC) in Gacigongo sub-location, Tharaka-Nithi County; he identified them as Muthengi Mwithi, a member of EAPC’s Tseykulu parish, Gacigongo; Mwangangi Mucee, who was a youth leader at EAPC’s Tseykulu parish, Gacigongo; and Munyoki Mwinzi and Peter Iguna Muthui Mucee, both members of EAPC’s Kanyengya parish, Nkaraku village, Gacigongo sub-location.
A fifth Christian from the same area, Kithinji Muthengi, was critically injured in the attack and was airlifted to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. He is a member of Anglican Church of Kenya in Miramba Ya Ikamba village, Gacigongo, and his parents are EAPC members there.
All five Christians, as well as the eyewitness who identified the dead, had come to Wajir to find jobs in construction. The four who were killed were shot while inside the shop trying to send money to their families in central Kenya, an area source told Morning Star News.
An EAPC pastor in Gacigongo told Morning Star News that the Christians killed were highly active members of their congregations, and his church is mourning their deaths.
“The church is yet to come to terms with the barbaric destruction of their members,” the pastor said. “One of the parents of Mwangangi Mucee is admitted in the hospital because of shock.”
The critically injured Kithinji Muthengi was outside the shop when bullets struck him in the stomach, hands and legs; he was rushed to a hospital in Wajir before being airlifted to Nairobi, an area pastor said.
Two others were injured in the attack – another Kenyan, and a Somali woman clerking at the shop who sustained a minor injury from the shooting.
“We feel the Somali lady who suffered the bullet shot was just accidental, because for the rest of the victims, the gunshot hit them directly,” the area source said. “The guns which were fired hit the targeted persons.”
The charred remains of those who died were sent to Nairobi so that a pathologist could try to identify them through their families’ DNA, sources said.
The gunmen spoke in the Somali language, possibly allowing them to receive a signal to shoot that the migrant workers would not have understood, the area pastor said.
After the gunshots, the attackers locked the victims inside the shop and set them ablaze, an area pastor said.
“It is quite a horrific act that after the four victims being shot dead, the attackers went ahead and burned their bodies,” he said. “I know we as pastors here in Wajir are not safe at all.”
County Police Commander Samuel Mukindia reportedly confirmed that the assailants killed four people and wounded three others who were inside the shop at the time of the raid.
A representative for the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, took responsibility for the killings and said such attacks will continue.
In Mandera, also in northeastern Kenya but 390 kilometers (242 miles) away, EAPC member Allan Otieno was shot dead on Sunday (March 15), an area pastor told Morning Star News. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility.
Otieno, from western Kenya, was sprayed with gunfire along with three other Kenyans after leaving the car repair shop where they worked, AK Garage, to buy some food at about 8:30 p.m. Otieno was hit in the head and died immediately; the other three were wounded. All four were known to attend churches in Mandera.
“Though Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility, we cannot rule out jealousy from the community on the success of the business,” the pastor said.
One of the three wounded, Kelvin Ochieng of Mandera Community Church, is receiving treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital for a broken right hand, a leg wound and a bullet lodged in his waist. The two other injured Christians have been discharged.
The government had assured non-local workers that it would beef up security after attacks last year. Otieno left for Mandera on Jan. 7.
More than 800 teachers who came to Mandera from outside the area have vowed not to return to work there despite government assurance of security and threats to fire them.
In the Mandera attack, several shots were fired from a white car, and then gunmen fled, the pastor said.
“We really need prayers,” he said. “If we leave Mandera, it means abandoning God’s work.”
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