The tense atmosphere in Garissa, Kenya is at bursting point. Even before the verbal warnings to leave the town filtered through yesterday to the Christians and other non-Muslims living there, the news of a massacre in Mandera – of 36 non-Muslim quarry workers on the Somalia-Ethiopia border on Tuesday 2 December – would have been sure to put Christian believers on edge.
Open Doors contacts have been informed that Christians and other non-Muslims have been given verbal warnings to leave the town before Friday 5 December.
“They have been told to vacate their rental houses and move out of the town,” our contacts say. “Some have been issued notices by their landlords and are relocating to Madogo, a small trading centre neighbouring Garissa that is more open to non-Muslims.”
According to sources in the town, non-Muslims have been told what happened in Mandera was ‘mild’ compared to what will happen in Garissa if the threats to leave go un-heard. The Christians have also been warned not to attend church there on Sunday. Local police appear to be of no help in the situation – according to a local source, Christians have been too afraid to report the matter, fearing they may be victimised by compromised security agents.
“We are on our own,” Open Doors has been told. “Only God can keep us. Please pray for our security because there is heavy tension at the moment.”
Meanwhile, responsibility for the deaths of the 36 workers near Mandera in northern Kenya has been claimed by Al Shabaab – a Somali rebel group. All of the victims are believed to be Christian.
Local residents told the BBC that around 50 heavily armed militants arrived at a camp by the quarry where workers were sleeping just after midnight on Tuesday (2 December). Workers who couldn’t recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed, were then separated from Muslim workers and shot dead.
On the same day, Al Shabaab issued a press release that read, in part, that it was ‘part of a series of attacks planned in response to Kenya’s occupation of Muslim lands and their ongoing atrocities …such as recent airstrikes on Muslims in Somalia.’
However, Kenya’s military say the airstrikes referred to in the press release were a response to Al-Shabaab’s 22 November attack on a bus which was travelling to Nairobi and left 28 dead.
The massacre follows an incident on 17 November, where Muslim youths protesting a police raid at two mosques in Mombasa killed four men, including a local pastor named Joshua Muteti, and injured others.
Pastor Muteti died while waiting at a bustop with his wife and three other ladies, who were unharmed. Witnesses told the Daily Nation local newspaper that the youths ordered their victims to recite the Shahada – when the pastor did not, he received a fatal blow to the back of his head.
In June, at least 65 people were killed in the predominantly Christian town of Mpeketoni, in attacks which some reports linked to Al Shabaab, and also local politicians.
This year there have also been a series of attacks involving grenades and improvised bombs, which have hit churches in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa.
Al-Shabaab has stepped up its campaign in Kenya since 2011, when Kenya sent troops across the border with Somalia to help battle the militants.
PLEASE PRAY for our brothers and sisters in Garissa to have discernment and courage as they consider their response to these threats to leave by Friday. Please also pray that police and security forces in the town will act decisively to protect Kenyan citizens, no matter their faith or place of origin.
An Open Doors contact who visited Garissa a few years ago says:
“Even today I can clearly remember the faces of the believers we met there. They had big smiles and glistening eyes. They didn’t know who we were, but were incredibly thankful for our visit and humbly welcomed us into their home.
“I will never forget their generous hospitality – they didn’t have much, but as we sat in the heat of their living room, they were so excited to serve us cold soft drinks!
“As they shared their stories of great grief and horror, explaining the recent grenade attack on their church compound and home, what stood out was their love for Jesus and determination to stay there and share the gospel. One believer had lost a daughter in the attack, and yet stayed in the town to start a church. Such courage!”
Sources: Open Doors, World Watch Monitor