A grenade attack on an Anglican Church in Kenya's capital has left one child dead and seven others injured in what is viewed as a response by the Somali Islamist group Al Shabab to the capture of its stronghold Friday by Kenyan troops.
The Sunday morning attack on the St. Polycarp's Anglican Church in Eastleigh area, which the police said was carried out by Al Shabab or its sympathizers, prompted analysts to warn of more attacks as the Kenya Defense Forces achieve more military success in next-door Somalia.
The troops, which rolled into the war-torn country in October 2011, entered Al Shabab's final stronghold city of Kismayo on Friday. Fighting together under the African Union banner, Kenyan and Somalian troops are now moving to consolidate their gains in Kismayo.
The apparent reprisal attack on the Nairobi church offers early confirmation of concerns here that while Al Shabab's conventional fight may be ending, the group will continue to be a regional menace through guerrilla and terrorist attacks.
“Kenya should brace itself for these attacks. It is obvious. Al Shabab has said, you come to my hole, I will come to yours,” says Madobe M.A, a Nairobi-based analyst on Somali issues.
The attack came as children were singing in a church Sunday school service. In a style reminiscent of Boko Haram, Nigeria’s violent Islamist sect, the assailants hurled a grenade inside the school, with most children being injured in the stampede for the exits.
Hours after the attack, two policemen were shot dead in the town of Garissa, where 14 people had been killed back in July in twin church attacks.
Concerns over religious conflict
Mr. Madobe expressed concern that the latest attack would spark fighting in Eastleigh, a neighborhood already tense after an attempt by enraged youths to attack a mosque in the area. The area has been given the nickname "little Mogadishu" because of the high concentration of Somali refugees or Kenyans of Somali origin living there.
Soon after today's church attack, the Muslim Youth Center (MYC), an Islamic group based in Nairobi that has been vowing to create sectarian violence in Kenya, praised the action.
“MYC-public warnings via social media are over like we said. May Allah keep the mujahedeen strong,” said the group in a Twitter post on Sept. 30. The group has been sending out messages through Twitter, promising sustained attacks for the “Al-Shabaab brothers until Kenya withdraws troops from Somalia.” It had promised attacks if the African Union forces entered Kismayo.
Kenyan politicians expressed concern that the attacks could spark fighting between Muslims and Christians in Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta, the deputy Prime Minister censured the latest attack on his Twitter account saying the attacks should not be allowed to escalate into a religious war.
“I would like to strongly condemn the brutal acts of terrorism deliberately targeting our places of worship,” said Mr. Kenyatta. “My appeal to you is that we should not let these terrorists win by descending into sectarian violence which is the aim of these attacks.”
Muslim leaders also condemned the attack and urged Christian and Muslims to work together to protect churches and mosques. After the attack on the church, properties belonging to Muslims were pelted with rocks. "Religious wars have destroyed countries elsewhere. That should not be replicated in Kenya," said Adan Duale, a Muslim Member of Parliament.