Bibles were lying in a pool of blood across the floor of a church near the Mombasa port after gunmen killed six worshipers and injured 17 others during a worship service Sunday to supposedly avenge Kenya's role in fighting Islamist militants in neighboring Somalia. The attackers unsuccessfully tried to attack another church.
At least two gunmen, apparently from a local Islamist group that sympathizes with the al-Shabaab in Somalia, stormed the Joy Jesus church in Likoni through its back door and shouted out in a foreign language before spraying bullets on the congregation, witnesses told Reuters.
"Both carried big guns and began shooting all over the place. I fell to the ground and could hear screams," Lilian Omondi, who was leading the worship at the time, was quoted as saying.
"They were ordinary looking guys, one of them tall, dark and wearing a long-sleeved shirt. They walked casually as if all was OK," another eyewitness, Peter Muasya, was quoted as saying. "Then they started shooting at those of us who were standing outside."
"They (victims) were shot by gunmen who shot indiscriminately at worshipers and then fled," Robert Mureithi, a local police chief, told Agence France Presse. The shooting had "all the indicators of a terrorist attack because the attackers did not steal anything and appeared focused on killing."
The gunmen fled the scene on foot and sought to attack another church but had to flee because of the presence of armed police in the area.
While no group has claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack, it appears to be a revenge attack by local al-Shabaab sympathizers for Kenyan forces' involvement in fighting the Islamist militant group in Somalia.
Al-Shabaab, whose real name is Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (Mujahideen Youth Movement), is an al-Qaeda-linked terror group that controls and runs a de facto "government" in most of southern Somalia.
Al-Shabaab splintered from a now defunct group of Sharia courts, the Islamic Courts Union. It is seeking to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government, created in 2004 and supported by the African Union, the United Nations and the United States.
Sections of the Muslims who live along Kenya's coastal areas see themselves as a neglected minority in a country where the government is largely run by Christians. This self-perception is being promoted and exploited by Islamist groups for recruitment.
About six months ago, Islamist militants attacked Nairobi's Westgate Mall on Sept. 21, leaving at least 68 dead and 175 wounded.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for it on its Twitter feed, saying: "The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders… For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it's time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land."
The case remains under investigation.
Last October, a 9-year-old boy was killed and several others were wounded in a grenade attack on a children's Sunday school class at the Anglican Church of Kenya St. Polycarp church in Nairobi.