Suspected al-Shabaab militants tortured and killed at least six Christians, five of whom were reportedly beheaded, in a terror attack on a village in Kenya’s coastal Lamu region that borders Somalia, according to reports.
“It is an ugly sight of people’s bodies lying dead and houses smoking with fire. This is undeniably an awful terrorist attack,” said Pastor Stephen Sila, who was at the site of the attack in Widhu village in Lamu West on Monday morning, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.
“I counted seven houses that were torched down, four bodies of people burned beyond recognition inside the houses,” he was quoted as saying. “A body shot dead right outside a burned house and another beheaded body next to it. Other villagers escaped into the dark and the police are still looking for them.”
The attack took place at about 4 a.m. local time while people were still sleeping, Lamu County Commissioner Samson Macharia told local media.
Five of the six killed had their hands tied from behind before they were beheaded, reported Kenya’s The Standard newspaper. “All the deceased persons had their hands tied from behind. Also several houses were torched within the locality and property of unknown value burned,” it said, citing a police report.
The pastor who spoke to ICC added: “The residents have gathered and are asking why the security officers were not doing enough to protect the Christians from being attacked by the Somali militants. There is a standoff now, but more police officers are arriving to pick the bodies and also evacuate those who need emergency medical attention.”
Commissioner Macharia also called it a terror attack and said security forces were hunting for the militants in a nearby forest, where they might have disappeared after the attack.
In the country’s northeast, the al-Shabaab terrorist group has been a constant threat.
Al-Shabaab has fought for years to overthrow the Somali government. The group has been responsible for attacks on both sides of the Somalia and Kenya border as it has long vowed to retaliate against Kenya for sending in troops to Somalia to fight the group.
In April 2015, al-Shabaab carried out one of its deadliest attacks when it stormed the campus of Garissa University. On that occasion, militants were said to have separated Muslims from non-Muslims and proceeded to execute all non-Muslim students. At least 148 people were killed in the attack.
Kenya was ranked 49th on Christian support organization Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
While it’s a Christian-majority country, persecution has spread in Kenya, Open Doors says. “Particularly, Christians with a Muslim background in the northeast and coastal regions live under constant threat of attack — even from their closest relatives. Our research revealed that Christians were attacked and forced to flee their villages, and Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab has infiltrated the local population to monitor the activities of Christians in those areas.”
Organized crime is also a serious problem in the country, Open Doors adds. “Corrupt officials often fail to take measures against persecutors — increasing the potential for further incidents against Christians.”
A church leader overseeing the Lamu West Africa Inland Churches told ICC that believers are still at risk in the country.
“The enemy is still roaming free within our region,” he said. “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.”