MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) – Two gunmen stormed a packed church near the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa on Sunday and opened fire on worshippers, killing three people and wounding others, in what police called a terrorist attack.
One witness said the gunmen shouted out in a foreign language before shooting indiscriminately at the congregation. Blood-spattered Bibles and overturned plastic chairs lay strewn across the church’s floor after the attack. “Both carried big guns and began shooting all over the place. I fell to the ground and could hear screams,” said Lilian Omondi, who was leading a prayer recital at the time. Kenya’s parliament has called for better coordination between the security and intelligence agencies after 67 people were killed in an attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi in September. The raid on Sunday took place in Likoni, located across a deep-water channel from Mombasa city, a major tourist hub. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Likoni’s police chief Robert Mureithi said the high number of bullet cartridges recovered for the Joy in Christ Church indicated the gunmen were armed with automatic weapons. The attackers tried to raid a second church nearby but fled when armed police on patrol in the neighbourhood appeared. “This has all the indicators of a terrorist attack because the attackers did not steal anything and appeared focused on killing,” Mureithi told reporters at the scene. Two people were killed at the church. A medic in the emergency ward at Mombasa’s main hospital said a third person died in hospital and that three children were among the wounded receiving treatment.
The violence comes at a time of heightened warnings of Islamist attacks against the east African nation and days after prosecutors charged two Somalis with terrorism-related offences after police seized a car packed with explosives. The Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab and their Kenyan sympathisers have been blamed for other gun and grenade attacks, which have targetted churches before, in Mombasa, and Nairobi. Kenyans are increasingly alarmed at the relative ease at which militants appear to move within the country, east Africa’s biggest economy and a recipient of U.S. counter-terrorism funding. The Nairobi government has sent troops into neighbouring Somalia as part of an African Union force (AMISOM) to combat the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Al Shabaab said it carried out the Westgate mall siege in the capital to avenge the military deployment in Somalia and has threatened more strikes in Kenya and other AMISOM-contributing nations, including Uganda and Ethiopia. (Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)