Kenya Massacre: Churches Employ Armed Guards to Protect Easter Masses

GARISSA, Kenya — Churches in Kenya turned to armed guards to protect their Easter Sunday congregations after al Shabab gunmen massacred nearly 150 people at a Kenyan university on Thursday, singling out Christians for point-blank executions.

Militants on Saturday threatened to stage more attacks and turn Kenyan cities “red with blood.” Police said they are providing extra security at shopping malls and public buildings in the capital, Nairobi, and in the eastern coastal region.

Kenya’s Christians make up 83 percent of the population of 44 million, and the nation’s priests, who have been targeted by Islamists in the past, said they fear Christian churches may bear the brunt of possible fresh attacks on Easter Sunday.

“We are very concerned about the security of our churches and worshippers, especially this Easter period, and also because it is clear that these attackers are targeting Christians,” said Willybard Lagho, a Mombasa-based catholic priest and chairman of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics.

He said Christian churches in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa would be hiring armed policemen and private security guards for mass on Easter Sunday.

“Everyone is anxious and you never know what will happen next, but we believe the biggest protector is God and we are praying,” said Samuel Wanje, 27, a youth member at Nairobi’s Holy Family Basilica, where three private security guards frisked churchgoers with hand-held metal detectors.

In Garissa, the scene of Thursday’s massacre and where masked gunmen in 2012 killed more than a dozen people in simultaneous gun and grenade raids on two churches, six armed soldiers were shielding the town’s main Christian church and about 100 worshippers ahead of Sunday mass.

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