Six Christians have been killed by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in a village in Kenya, with another Christian man murdered nearby less than a day later.
In the first attack, at least one victim was shot, one hacked to death with a machete and others were burned alive while they were sleeping, according to local news sources.
The jihadist militants attacked the village of Widhu in Lamu County, on the border with Somalia, in the early hours of Monday, January 3.
Pastor of a local church Stephen Sila spoke to persecuted church organisation International Christian Concern (ICC) from the site of the attack, saying: “It is an ugly sight of people’s bodies lying dead and houses smoking with fire. This is undeniably an awful terrorist attack.
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“I counted seven houses that were torched down, four bodies of people burnt beyond recognition inside the houses. A body shot dead right outside a burnt house and another beheaded body next to it. Other villagers escaped into the dark and the police are still looking for them.”
Less than 24 hours later, in a nearby village of Bobo-Hindi, another Christian man was also suspected to have been murdered by Al-Shabaab militants when three houses were set ablaze around 11pm on January 3.
Local police confirmed that John Gichoya was killed and burned inside his home by terrorists, who then fled toward the Kenya-Somalia border.
A Bobo-Hindi resident (who preferred to remain anonymous) told the ICC he saw a group of eight armed gunmen dressed in military gear making their way out of the village after setting the homes on fire.
“When they stormed the village, I fled to a safe place where I was sure they could not pass. I heard gunshots and thereafter saw huge flames of fire. After about 30 minutes, I saw the terrorists walking away from the village. They were conversing in low tones, with bright flashlights to light the way. They followed the small path I used to flee and so I saw them from the bush.”
Al-Shabaab, a Somali-based, al-Qaeda-aligned terrorist group, has been posing a greater threat to Christians in Kenya in recent years. While Christianity is the majority religion in the country, those living in the predominantly Muslim northeastern and coastal regions are under constant threat of attack. Al-Shabaab militants reportedly monitor the activities of Christians in these areas. As such, Kenya has been listed by anti-persecution watchdog Open Doors as one of the countries where it is difficult to be Christian.
A church leader overseeing the Lamu West Africa Inland Churches said the attack on Widhu village confirms the risk Kenyan Christians still face.
“The enemy is still roaming free within our region,” he told the ICC. “We are saddened that six Christians have lost their lives and left their families, and the entire body of Christ is hurting. We call upon the government to heighten its commitment to protecting the people of this great nation of Kenya. We also ask the global body of believers to join hands with us in prayer and material support for the affected families.”
The head of the Lamu County police assured locals that they are pursuing the terrorists.
The latest attacks come after a pattern of January attacks by Al-Shabaab in recent years. On January 5, 2020, the group attacked Manda Bay airfield – the most guarded Kenyan and US military base in Lamu – and three Americans were among those killed. On January 15, 2019, 21 people were killed by the militants in a Nairobi hotel. On January 15, 2016, around 200 Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) soldiers on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia were killed by Al-Shabaab.