(Photo: Reuters/Chris Mann)
More than 30 people were arrested in Kenya on Wednesday over the twin church bombings in Garissa this past Sunday that killed 17 people, and Muslims and Christians in the country have vowed to push back against attempts to disrupt their peaceful coexistence.
According to Philip Ndolo, the regional deputy police chief, 10 people have already been released after they were interrogated, but among those still under arrest remain Kenyans and Somalians, likely linked to the Somalian Islamist al-Shabaab organization, which in the past has been accused of a number of terrorist activities.
"We are sure al-Shabaab is behind the attacks, but right now we are only speculating," Ndolo clarified.
This past Sunday, at least 17 Christians lost their lives after gunmen dressed in balaclavas threw grenades at the Garissa churches, blasting and shooting at the worshipers. More than 60 people were wounded at the Catholic Church and African Inland Church, which are located near the border between Kenya and Somalia. The chaos caused a stampede when worshipers tried to make their way out, CNN reported.
Although al-Shabaab has not yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Islamist group has been known to kidnap foreign aid workers on Kenyan soil while demanding ransoms. The group has been branded a terrorist organization by the United States, and has been linked to al-Qaida.
Aden Wachu, head of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims, said that the attacks were an attempt to create further division between Christians and Muslims in the African nation.
"There are people out there who are determined to make Kenya another Nigeria," Wachu said, referring to the geographical and religious division in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims.
Nigeria has been reeling for over a year from attacks against Christians by Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram. The group claims that its aim is to drive Christians from the northern regions where most Muslims in the country are concentrated. Hundreds have lost their lives in church bombings and shootings, but the Nigerian government and Nigerian forces have been unable to contain the attack so far, leading to wide-spread public unrest.
Muslims in Kenya have said that they will try and protect Christians from such terrorist attacks, The Associated Press reported.
"We decided as solidarity that the Muslim youth will provide a vigilante service to the churches not only in Garissa but in any other places that the Christians may deem fit," Wachu has said.
Mustafa Ali, a leading member of Kenya's Inter-Religious Council, welcomed this gesture, and shared his hope that Christians and Muslims can work together to help stop the violence.
"The Muslim leaderships in the country, particularly in northeastern Kenya, are saying that they are offering Muslims themselves to guard the churches, particularly on Sundays, as Christians go to the churches and pray," Ali has said, as reported by Voice of America news.
"This is unprecedented in the Christian-Muslim relationship in the country… the relationships are generally very good, other than a few instances where Christians and Muslims have disagreed on [few things], but have not really fought each other, as we are witnessing in places like Nigeria," he added.
Ali warned, however, that such violent attacks are a significant threat to the peace between religions in Kenya.
"For al-Shabab to kill so many Christians, it creates a very difficult situation for the inter-faith relations between Muslims and Christians. And, Muslims increasingly fear that these kinds of attacks are going to lead to reprisals, the kind that we have seen in Nigeria," Ali commented.
The United Nations has also spoken out on the recent deadly attacks, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling the assaults "reprehensible and criminal."
"No cause can justify the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The perpetrators of these attacks, and of other recent terrorist acts in Kenya, must be held to account," he added.
According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of State, Keny's population is 45 percent Protestant, 33 percent Roman Catholic and 10 percent Muslim, with ingeniousness beliefs composing the remaining segments.