(ADDS LATEST ATTACK ON CHURCH IN KENYA, MORE DETAILS)
By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
NAIROBI, KENYA (BosNewsLife)– Somalia's militant Islamist group al-Shabab uses converts from religious Christianity to Islam to carry out deadly attacks against churches in neighboring Kenya as part of what they call a "holy war", or Jihad, officials said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Sunday, November 4.
The announcement came as Kenya's Red Cross said a blast at a church inside a police compound in the eastern town of Garissa killed a police officer who also served as the pastor, and injured at least 13 others.
Christians identified the killed pastor as Julius Mukonzi and added that several people had wounds so serious that they were air-lifted to Kenyatta General Hospital in the capital Nairobi.
Police said militants with suspected links to al-Shabab were believed to be responsible on the for the blast that rocked the Utawala Interdenominational church in the Administrative Police compound.
Al-Shabab, which still remains influential in southern Somalia despite suffering setbacks, launches border attacks into Kenya with "poor youths from Christian backgrounds," confirmed Reverend Wellington Mutiso, head of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.
"It is the recent converts who (are) being used to bomb churches," he said. "It is not members of the Somali, Boran, or Swahili communities, which have many Muslims, but the other tribes which have been known to follow Christianity" as a religion, Mutiso added in published remarks.
Analysts aren't surprised about the trend. Godffery Ngumi, senior lecturer at the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Kenya's Kenyatta University, said recent converts can be "easily manipulated" because they "know very little about their new religion."
The use of converts from traditional Christian peoples makes it extremely difficult to identify and stop would-be attackers who can seamlessly blend into any Christian congregation.
Using Muslims with a Christian background make it difficult to identify and stop would-be attackers, as they can seamlessly blend into a Christian congregation, church leaders said.
"We are now meeting frequently to discuss ways of handling the trend," explained Reverend David Gathanju, who heads the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
"We feel those who are attacking us are 'our own' who have recently converted. That’s why it is difficult for the security to identify them."
Last year, Elgiva Bwire Oliacha alias Mohammad Seif was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to grenade attacks in Nairobi. After converting to Islam in 2005, Oliacha said he went to Somalia for weapons training before returning to carry out attacks on church.
"In a state of deprivation, people will easily embrace extremism as is happening in Afghanistan," added Emmanuel Kisiangani, of the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi. "They are also likely to be easily brainwashed."
Al-Shabab said in September it had withdrawn from its last major stronghold in southern Somalia, following a military strike led by Kenyan armed forces, but warned that its retreat Kismayo is a "tactical decision" and that it would continue to fight in the city.
Somalia's turbulent capital Mogadishu was taken over by African Union peacekeeping forces last year. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).