On Tuesday 25 October, twelve Christians were killed in the town of Mandera, in north-east Kenya, when al-Shabaab militants attacked a guesthouse with guns and grenades. Our contact told Barnabas Fund, “We the Christian community in the region are living in fear of attack. The security forces appear to be unable to protect us from these targeted attacks, two in a month.” Earlier in October al-Shabaab murdered six Christians in Mandera in an attack on a residential compound.
He adds, “Due to what happened in Mandera two days ago, the security situation in the entire north-eastern Kenya, especially counties bordering Somalia, has been raised. In this light, churches … have been advised by the military to put off their lights at night to avoid being located by people plotting attacks, as they may identify people staying in the church compounds. Non-Somali people have been told not to walk out after 6pm at night and avoid night gatherings.”
Al-Shabaab, which rose to prominence in 2006 in Somalia, is fighting to establish a fully Islamic state in Somalia and neighbouring regions with significant ethnic Somali populations, such as north-east Kenya. The group refuse to recognise the authority of Somalia’s transitional government, which was established in the country in 2004 after years of ethnic violence. Since 2011, Kenyan African Union troops have been deployed in Somalia with the aim of supporting the government’s administration and reducing the threat posed by al-Shabaab. In response, the group has engaged in terror attacks in Kenya, including the infamous assault on Garissa University in April 2015, in which they singled out believers for execution and killed 148 people.
Kenya remains a majority Christian country, with Muslims comprising around 20% of the population. However, sympathy for Islamic extremism is on the rise. In an interview with Barnabas Fund in February, a Kenyan church leader explained, “Relationships between Christians and Muslims had not been that bad [until the rise in militant Islam], but … Many who had peaceful relations with others are now being considered as not true Muslims. So, wanting to be stronger Muslims, many have been building hostility towards the other, non-Islamic, communities.” The situation has been further exacerbated by the Kenyan government’s attempts to root out support for al-Shabaab, which have on occasions indiscriminately targeted Muslim ethnic-Somalis.
Islamic State has encouraged attacks by Islamists in East Africa. The most recent issue of the group’s Rumiyah magazine included an article championing previous attacks by Islamists in Kenya, as well as a statement of support for al-Shabaab: “may Allah hasten the conquest of Kenya for the Soldiers of the Khilafah [Caliphate] in Somalia.”
Our contact in north-east Kenya concludes, “The fear among Christians here is now visible and can be easily felt. Please pray for us!”