Suspected Al-Shabaab Islamic militants attacked St Paul’s Anglican Church, Ukunda, Kwale County, about 30 kilometres south of Mombasa killing two police officers. A worship service was going on when four gunmen came towards the church, but were confronted by policemen manning the gate.
Nelly Wanjiru, a worshipper at the church, said. “The preacher was ready to start preaching when we heard a loud bang shocking everyone as parents ran to ensure their children were safe. There was a lot of shouting and running as parents took their children, jumped over the church wall and disappeared,” she said. “The officers were being sprayed with bullets very badly, they died a very painful death.” Nelly said.
Coast regional police boss Larry Kieng said the attackers who came on motorbikes “made away with two rifles” belonging to the Policemen. “It is too early to say who may have been involved but you can almost pinpoint Al-Shabaab elements from the nature of the attack,” Kiyeng said.
Kwale commissioner Kutswa Olaka said, “One officer died as he was being taken to Diani beach hospital and the other died on the way to Pandya hospital in Mombasa,” Olaka said.
“The motive of the attacks was to get the weapons for robberies, and other side activities but the end motive is for a criminal purpose. The fact that the guns are still there we shall pursue the gangsters with an all impressing purpose so that we get them back,” he added.
Worshippers who sustained injuries as they scampered for safety were treated at Balm Beach Hospital.
Governor Salim Mvurya of Kwale condemned the attack but opined that it was not “a religious war, the thugs did not attack civilians in the church but they wanted arms and that is why they confronted officers at the gate,” Mvurya said.
The Regional Police officer did not share that opinion. “An investigation has been launched and we are not ruling out terrorism because this attack is not a normal robbery,” Larry Kieng said.
Since 2011, churches have been targeted by Al Shabaab which has led to the decision to post policemen to protect churches since then. The attack on Police officers by the Islamist and taking away their weapons has also been a recurrent incident in Kenya. The weapons are then used for other subsequent attacks.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos