ANTI-terrorism investigators have ruled out the involvement of al-Shabaab in the Sunday attacks on two churches in Garissa.
They are now focusing on fresh leads that the attacks were motivated by either local tensions between the Muslims and Christians, or a politically motivated crime. An internal Anti Terrorism Police Unit report submitted yesterday said that investigators reached that conclusion after analysing four incidents in Garissa in the last six months.
In December a grenade was hurled at a hotel called Kwa Chege in Garissa town. Then in February a woman and two infants were killed in Garissa in an attack on the Bible Baptist Church close to the AIC church which was attacked on Sunday. In February a grenade killed three people outside Juba Hotel.
The analysis focused on the two latest attacks on AIC and the Catholic church. Police sources close to the investigation told the Star that that three of the four recent incidents touched on churches. The attacks have caused panic among non-indigenous residents of Garissa who fear that they are being targeted. James Mwangi, a tuk tuk driver in Garissa, said they had lately witnessed a lot of hostility from residents based on their religion and for being non-Somalis.
All the incident involved Russian F1 grenades suspected to have originated from Somalia republic. Yesterday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga arrived in Garissa town shortly after 10am and held a three hour closed door meeting with top security officials including Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere. The meeting was held at the North Eastern Provincial Commissioner's office.
The meeting discussed the possibility that the Sunday attack was a religious war targeting Christians. Islam is the dominant religion in Garissa town and North Eastern Province. AIC head Silas Yego again raised the issue during a rally attended by top Government officials who yesterday afternoon addressed residents at Garissa Primary school.
Yego told residents that Christians and Muslims should live together peacefully. A Muslim cleric who addressed the gathering condemned the incidents as un-Islamic. He said in the Muslim faith it was bad for anyone to kill and it was shameful that the attackers had killed worshippers in church. "Ni dhambi kumuaa mtu yeyote. Na mtu yeyote anaye muua mtu kwenya mahali patakatifu ni hatia " said the cleric.
Father Clement Khiyaniri, a parish priest in Garissa, was presiding over a mass at the Lady of Consolata Church when the worshipers were attacked. He said it had become a habit for some Muslims to pelt his church with stones. He said that on Sunday stones were first thrown at his congregation by a group of men who were standing outside the church compound. "When I first heard a loud bang, I thought it was the normal stone throwing until I heard a second bang which was louder than the first one. I sent four worshipers to check what was happening and also told worshipers not to panic," he said.
It was then that the congregation realized that two grenades had been hurled at them. ATPU detectives spent most of yesterday trying to piece together evidence. More police officers including General Service Unit have been deployed to patrol the streets of Garissa. Police have also started enforcing orders by the North Eastern Provincial Security Intelligence committee to have every one entering and leaving Garissa thoroughly scrutinized.
Senior detectives from Nairobi were even forced to give an inventory of their firearm on arrival in Garissa after the attack. Police have also restricted movement of people especially at night. Seven survivors of the Garissa attacks are still fighting for their lives, with two in critical condition, after being airlifted to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on Sunday night.
Hospital CEO Richard Lesiyampe said that patients included three males and four females. "All the patients are being managed professionally and the doctors are doing everything possible to restore their health," Lesiyampe said. Lesiyampe appealed for more blood donations from the public, saying that all the victims will undergo transfusion. A camp has been set up outside the hospital.
The victims suffered head and body injuries and multiple fractures. One was admitted in ICU with metal fragments in his head. "Two of the victims sustained multiple body injuries in the chest, torso and fracture of the femur," Lesiyampe said. Two other victims sustained multiple fractures in the femur and lower limbs, and were said to be in theater, while one whose condition was said to be stable suffered abdominal injuries.
Narrating her ordeal from her hospital bed, after an operation, Fridah Cheptoo said she was attending a mass at AIC church when the blast occurred. "We were singing, and then suddenly I heard gun shots, and then loud screams from the congregation," Cheptoo said, adding that she then fell down.