Assailants killed two evangelical pastors in Kenya late last month, following anonymous threats and a government crackdown on Islamic extremists in the region. At least one church leader reacted by calling for firearms and greater security for churches.
The murders of Charles Mathole in Mombasa and Ibrahim Kithaka in a town less than 40 miles away came days after Muslim riots spurred by the drive-by shooting of an imam in Mombasa. Rioters burned down a Salvation Army building and four were killed during the protests, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM).
An assailant shot Mathole in the back while he was praying in the sanctuary of Redeemed Gospel Church. Mathole was found dead with his Bible on his lap. His widow, Claris, told The Star newspaper he had earlier received anonymous threats. Kithaka pastored an East African Pentecostal church.
A spokesman with International Christian Concern (ICC) said the pastors’ killings appear to be retaliation for police and security crackdowns on Islamic extremists.
ICC’s regional manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, said the attacks were designed “to intimidate and to send a message to the Christians and the Kenyan government." Kenyan Muslims say they are being targeted by the government in the war on terrorism, according to Religion News Service. This has increased tensions in the majority Christian nation, especially in predominantly Muslim coastal towns.
Mathole wasn’t the only pastor threatened. One pastor told WWM, “Church leaders have all received threatening text messages in the past, but they have increased since the sheikh was killed.”
According to WWM, the messages from an unknown number say, “Be prepared, we are coming for you.”
Lambert Mbela, another pastor at Mathole’s church, called for arms. Mbela told Religion News Service: “Our many churches are not under any protection. They do not have walls or gates. The government should issue AK-47 rifles to every church so that we can stop them from being burnt, our property from being looted, and our pastors and Christians from being killed.” Some Christian leaders in Kenya disagreed and said being armed would be inconsistent with biblical teaching.
The government’s increased efforts to stop Islamic terrorists from recruiting the Muslim minority in Kenya has led to resentment. Some in the Muslim communities blame police for extra-judicial killings and widespread detentions, according to Reuters. Police deny the accusations.
According to Open Doors UK, the increased level of violence against Christians in Kenya is “remarkable,” and “much of it has to with al-Shabaab or al-Shabaab-inspired extremist groups. There is a real Islamist drive to get Kenya under the African 'House of Islam.’”
In September, Somali militants with al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people in the deadliest terror attack in the country since 1998. The terrorists specifically targeted non-Muslims. Kenyan police say at least one of the Westgate attackers was a Kenyan from Mombasa, according to Reuters.