Faith leaders in Kenya condemned attacks on two churches on July 1 in the northeastern town of Garissa that left 17 people dead and 66 injured, according to police.
The simultaneous attacks took place at Our Lady of Consolata Catholic Church and the evangelical Garissa African Inland Church by masked gunmen, according to witnesses.
Kenyan troops often muster in Garissa for operations against al-Shabab insurgents in neighboring Somalia, leading to speculation in news reports that the attacks could have been launched by the group or its allies. Al-Shabab declined comment.
“We are deeply saddened Kenyans who were worshipping God were mercilessly murdered by criminals who hid their faces because they could not face up to their dastardly acts,” said the Rev. Peter Karanja, National Council of Churches of Kenya general secretary.
Police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said the assailants wanted to people to feel Christians and Muslims were fighting, but Karanja urged the police to become “smarter” in fighting terrorism threats.
“Kenyan wants to see greater innovation within the security service to feel safe … Considering that we are at war, homeland security must be given greatest priority,” said Karanja in a news release on July 2.
In a related response, Cardinal John Njue said the Roman Catholic Church believed the country was not at a religious war. “We ask all Kenyans to work towards promoting peaceful co-existence,” said Njue. “We remind Kenyans that fighting terrorism, extremism and insecurity … is duty of every Kenyan, since criminals and terrorists operate among us.”
Muslims leaders united to censure the attacks. “Any God fearing person will not celebrate the death of innocent people who gather for the purpose of worship or any other course,” Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa, the organizing secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.