At least one person was killed when a grenade was thrown into a Nairobi church on Sunday, the latest in a series of attacks in Kenya since it sent troops into Somalia to try to crush Islamist militants blamed for cross-border raids and kidnappings.
Nairobi has blamed al-Shabaab militants, who formally merged with al-Qaeda earlier this year for the surge in violence that has threatened tourism in east Africa’s biggest economy and wider regional destabilisation.
Police said it was too early to say who was behind the blast at the God’s House of Miracle Church, made of corrugated iron sheets and located in a busy market and residential area known as Ngara a few kilometres away from downtown Nairobi.
“Somebody must have come and lobbed a grenade into the church congregation that was by then going on,” Moses Ombati, the Nairobi deputy police chief, said at the church.
“So far we have confirmed 16 (casualties), that is, one dead and 15 admitted to hospitals. Five are confirmed to be in critical condition.”
Glass from windows shattered in the blast, overturned chairs and patches of blood were scattered about the church floor. A bloodied footstep marked the entrance of the church, which police estimated could accommodate more than 200 people.
Worshippers carried the wounded to cars that rushed them to hospitals, and later huddled speaking in hushed tones.
“It just happened, we do not know actually how it started but we just heard a blast,” said Hebo Hamala, a church elder.
The blast resembled two separate attacks at different bus stations and a bar in the capital that killed a total of 10 people and wounded many more last month and in October, a week after Kenyan troops swept into southern Somalia.
‘These are not die-hards’
“We have seen similar attacks before, where people throw grenades and run,” deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said.
“These are not die-hards. They know they can safely throw a grenade and run away during the confusion, they know it will not kill (the attacker) and that they can get away without being seen.”
In late March, one person was killed when a grenade was hurled at an open-air Christian gathering near the port city of Mombasa, a major tourist destination.
Minutes later a grenade went off at a bar near Mombasa’s main stadium but no casualties were reported.
A grenade explosion at a Nairobi bus station earlier in March killed at least nine people and wounded 40. Four people were arrested but later freed pending further investigation.
There have been similar attacks near the border with Somalia since Kenya’s military incursion.
Al-Shabaab has not claimed responsibility for the various attacks but in a statement a month ago said Kenya’s security depended on its military activities in Somalia.
“The more Kenyan troops continue to persecute innocent Muslims of Somalia, the less secure Kenyan cities will be; and the more oppression the Muslims of Somalia feel, the more constricted Kenyan life will be,” it said.
Ethiopia has also dispatched forces into Somalia to support the anarchic country’s shaky government, which barely holds the capital Mogadishu with the help of the African Union’s AMISOM force.
Somalia has been in shambles since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting has killed more than 21 000 people since al Shabaab launched its insurgency in 2007, and possibly over one million in 20 years.
The rebels are fighting to topple the Mogadishu government and impose a harsh brand of sharia (Islamic law) on Somalia. — Reuters