(ADDS RISING DEATH TOLL AND INJURIES, DETAILS)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with BosNewsLife’s Africa Service
NAIROBI, KENYA (BosNewsLife)– At least 17 people died and over 60 were injured when suspected Islamic militants threw grenades and opened fire in two churches in northeastern Kenya, authorities said Sunday, July 1.
The violence rocked the town of Garissa, an important military base from where Kenyan ground forces have entered neighboring Somalia to fight insurgents linked to terror group al Qaeda.
Deputy Provincial Police Officer Phillip Ndolo told Kenya’s Capital FM News broadcaster that the church attacks were happened simultaneously during Mass at a Catholic Church and a Sunday service of the evangelical Africa Inland Church (AIC).
The deadliest was at the AIC church where 10 worshipers, including two police officers, were reportedly shot dead when they fled for safety after an attempted grenade attack. “The guns that the two police officers were carrying were stolen,” Ndolo claimed. At the Catholic Church, he said, the casualties occurred as a result of a grenade attack.
He said two grenades were hurled but only one exploded.
An unidentified eye witness told media that at least four masked gunmen wearing blue uniforms sprayed bullets at the AIC congregation “resulting in the deaths and the high number of casualties”.
Ndolo said that his forces “condemn the attacks in the strongest terms possible.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, which was believed to be a revenge attack by Islamic militants.
Kenya has seen numerous bombings and kidnappings since October, when Kenyan forces crossed into Somalia to help that country battle al-Shabab Islamic fighters, who have also been linked to killing Christians.
Last week, the United States embassy in Nairobi warned of an imminent terror attack in the Coastal city of Mombasa.
In published remarks, the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) condemned the twin attacks on the Garissa churches.
SUPKEM chairman Abdulghafur El-Busaidy said all places of worship must be respected.
“We want to send our condolences and we are sad that no arrests have been made yet,” El Busaidy told reporters.
“All places of worship must be respected …these criminals’ must get double punishment,” he said.
The attacks further threaten crucial revenues from tourism in what is East Africa’s largest economy.