Kenya (MNN/ODM) — Two gunmen stormed the Joy in Jesus Church near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday and opened fire on worshippers, killing six people and wounding others in what police called a terrorist attack.
One survivor described the attack to the media: “They [the terrorists] forced their way through the rear door and shot the watchman, who staggered into the church before falling down. One attacker shouted ‘Allah Akbar’ [God is great] and started shooting in every direction.” Others tried to flee only to meet with gunfire from two other attackers stationed outside the church.
What’s more, Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry says, “It seems to have been, based on our evidence, a coordinated attack because there were two other churches that were scheduled to be attacked, but the terrorists were somehow turned away.” In fact, through a news release, Open Doors said two other attacks were repulsed by armed policemen who were on guard duty.
Noted in that same release, the attackers reportedly calmly walked away from the one successful attack, disappearing into the surrounding slums. Police later found a box containing 36 rounds of ammunition. 18 people are hospitalized. Those injured include a 12-month-old baby boy, who has a bullet lodged in his head.
Somali militant group al-Shabaab and local sympathizers have carried out multiple attacks in Kenya, in revenge for the Kenyan army’s intervention in Somalia to crush the Islamist rebels. The church shooting came days after prosecutors charged two Somalis with terrorism offenses after police seized a car packed with explosives.
The situation is creating a lot of uncertainty. Curry explains, “[Believers] are under pressure. The government is not terribly supportive. There are some rising and stronger Islamic extremist groups that are putting pressure on Christian churches and calling for acts of violence.”
Kenya’s parliament has called for better coordination between the security and intelligence agencies after 67 people were killed in a Nairobi shopping mall attack in September. Similar church attacks in Garissa, a border town in Kenya, were carried out by the Somalian Islamist rebel group al-Shabaab on July 1, 2012.
The March 23, 2014 attacks bear an eerie resemblance. No one has claimed responsibility, however, Curry is concerned this is only the beginning. “Islamic extremism is the main driver of persecution in Kenya. That’s a strain of Islam that wants to impose a regime on Kenya, so that others are forced to believe what they believe.”
“We are saddened but not surprised as we have been hearing Muslim preachers promise over their loudspeakers that they will revenge the Masjid Musa incident [Feb. 2 in Mombasa] when security agents stormed the mosque and arrested approximately 200 people,” reported an Open Doors contact who remains anonymous for security reasons. Open Doors is on the ground helping support spiritual, emotional, and relief efforts to the affected Christian community.
“We are resolute and will not be cowed,” notes the contact. “This is the message we are sending to those that are against the Gospel being preached in this area: ‘We will not leave the area because we know that Satan only arises against the Church like this when it is making an impact. This is confirmation that we are doing something right for the Kingdom of God.’ This is the reassurance we[also] are trying to pass on to our congregants.”
Curry expects an impact on Gospel outreach at first. “What we’ve seen over the last two years is Kenya has come onto the Open Doors World Watch List because of this rising persecution. They’re having to process through what it means to be a follower of Jesus in extreme pressure, where you are threatened for what you believe.”
The Church is at the beginning stage of coping with the mounting pressure. However, like the Christians of Somalia, Nigeria, and Eritrea, they will not be stamped out. What can we do? “We need to have a big view of the world and understand that it’s not just what happens here in the United States,” says Curry. “We have brothers and sisters in places like Kenya, in places like Mombasa, who now, next Sunday when they go to church, [will] think twice about it because they may be attacked for it.”
The Open Doors contact added: “Please pray with us as we now move to make funeral and other plans. Our brothers and sisters need God’s comfort, healing, and strength.”
Kenya is ranked No. 43 on the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.