Islamic extremists are suspected of murdering a pastor in Mombasa, Kenya, in retaliation for police raids on a nearby mosque.
Militants gunned down Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge, an assistant pastor with Glory of God Ministries Church, on Feb. 2, the same day Kenyan authorities raided a mosque believed to be recruiting Islamic extremists for Somalia’s al-Shabaab terrorist organization, according to Morning Star News (MSN). Al- Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi last fall.
Mombasa’s chief of criminal investigations, Henry Ondieki, said police forcibly entered the mosque after gaining intelligence that a meeting to recruit militants was underway. “This was not a normal day of prayers,” he said. “Their intention was clear: They were planning to recruit and attack innocent Kenyan civilians.”
Police opened fire on Muslim youths wielding daggers at the Masjid Musa mosque and at least one officer and a young man were killed in the ensuing riot, witnesses and officials said.
MSN reported that suspects in the killing of Kadenge were overheard saying, “Make sure you have killed him—he has been promoting his religion near our mosque.” An unnamed Christian leader also told MSN that Mombasa’s pastors fear for their lives: “We need prayers that the church will survive these attacks as we are being targeted by the radical Muslims.”
Kadenge may have made enemies by reporting security threats related to the mosque, according to Barnabas Fund.
This is not the first time extremists have attacked pastors in the port city of Mombasa. In late October, an assailant shot evangelical pastor Charles Mathole while he was praying in the sanctuary of Redeemed Gospel Church. His widow said he had been threatened anonymously before the murder. Around the same time, another pastor, Ibrahim Kithaka, was killed in a town less than 40 miles away. Both killings took place days after Muslims rioted over the drive-by killing of an imam.
Official crackdowns on Muslim extremists in Kenya have increased tensions in the majority Christian nation. Kenya is ranked 40th on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 most persecuted nations. That persecution comes from Islamic extremists, especially al-Shabaab or al-Shaabab-inspired groups.
Some say the Kenyan government’s harsh counterterrorism measures are pushing some Muslim youths toward extremism. A Human Rights Watch researcher reported last year that many Somalis who have fled to Kenya because of al-Shabaab violence have sometimes faced “serious abuses” at the hands of security forces who wrongfully accuse them of supporting al-Shabaab.
A Moroccan appeals court dropped charges against Mohamed El Baladi, a Muslim convert to Christianity, ruling that it lacked evidence that he coerced a Muslim into accepting Christ.
Officials arrested El Baladi last August and before he had legal representation, a court in Taounate convicted him of “shaking the faith of a Muslim” and sentenced him to 30 months in prison. His appeal was moved 40 miles away to Fez, Morocco.
Christians in the north African country feared a possible crackdown as the government confiscated El Baladi’s Christian materials and pressured him to reveal where he got them.
At El Baladi’s appeal hearing in October, 11 human rights lawyers appeared on his behalf and persuaded the judge to postpone the trial until December. According to International Christian Concern’s Todd Daniels, it was postponed again because the accusers did not show up at the December hearing.
Morning Star News reported that on Feb. 6, the appeals court overturned the conviction, nullifying El Baladi’s sentence, and said as of Feb. 13, the case would be closed. World Watch Monitor noted that the court acknowledged El Baladi had engaged in conversation about his faith, but there was no proof of an attempt to coerce a conversion.
“I think Christians have been encouraged by the way [the case] has been handled once it was moved to Fez,” Daniels said. “It became apparent that the conviction wasn’t an indicator that the government had changed its stance on religion. So they were relieved.”
Still, Daniels said the situation for Morocco’s tiny Christian minority isn’t good. The country still forbids proselytizing and carefully tracks Christians’ activities and officials sometimes detain believers without charges.