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Kenyan Christians fear former brethren are attacking churches

Some Christians converting to Islam in Kenya have been recruited by Al Shabab, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda.

By Correspondent / October 17, 2012

Kenya's General Service Unit (GSU) police officers patrol the scene of a raid in the Likoni area of the coastal port city of Mombasa October 17. Kenyan police shot dead three suspected supporters of the Somali militant group Al Shabab on Wednesday during the raid in Kenya's turbulent coastal region in which a police officer also died.

Joseph Okanga/Reuters

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Nairobi, Kenya

Kenyan church leaders and analysts are expressing concern that recent Muslim converts from Christian rural regions are the new breed of jihadists targeting churches, public places, and police in the country.

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In the latest incident, a grenade attack injured at least 10 officers from the paramilitary General Service Unit in the port city of Mombasa. The unit has been cracking down on terror groups in the coastal region.

Al Shabab, a militant Islamist group with ties to Al Qaeda, is no longer relying on its traditional base of Somali or Swahili Muslims. Instead, the group is recruiting a new multi-ethnic band of recruits, many of whom are former Christians, making it more difficult to identify would be attackers. 

“It is the recent coverts who [are] being used to bomb churches. 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, like the Luo, Kikuyu, or Luhya,” says Rev. Wellington Mutiso, the head of Evangelical Alliance of Kenya.  

The group is targeting poor, unemployed youth from the Protestant and Catholic church regions, making the churches very concerned, according to the Rev. David Gathanju, the head of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). Editor's note: An earlier version of the article misspelled Gathanju and Kikuyu.

“We are now meeting frequently to discuss ways of handling the trend. 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 among,” says Reverend Gathanju. 

Giggling convert

The leaders' concerns gained credence on Monday when Musharaf Abdalla, a Christian convert, admitted before the Nairobi chief magistrate Kiarie Waweru that he was a member of Al Shabab and had handled explosive vests and devices. Giggling, he asked the court to jail him quickly, only to revise his guilty plea to not guilty yesterday. 

Mr. Abdalla is believed to hail from western Kenya, where he was known as Alex Shikinda. He became the latest Kenyan convert to openly admit being a member of Al Shabab and to handling explosives on behalf of the extremist group.

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