The masked gunmen, who attacked the small Garissa church, first killed the two policemen guarding the church before taking their rifles and opening fire on the terrified congregation, killing 15 worshippers, Kenya Red Cross said.
Witnesses reported seeing four masked gunmen, dressed in dark blue outfits, at the scene. Two of the gunmen entered the small church around 10:15 a.m. and opened fire on worshippers inside, while the other two waited outside. As churchgoers ran outside to escape death within the hallowed walls of the church, they were met with more violence outside as the other gunmen sprayed fleeing worshippers with bullets.
“We were deep in prayers preparing to give our offerings,” visibly shaken David Mwange, a churchgoer, told the AP. “We first had a loud bang from outside which we mistook to be coming from the rooftops. We then had gun shots which made us to lie down. Within no time we had gunshots all over. Everybody was shouting and wailing in pain.”
Phillip Ndolo, a spokesman for the police force in the region said the gun attack African Inland Chruch in Garissa was the bloodiest of the two church attacks this morning. Ndolo said 15 were killed and at least 40 wounded, while a grenade attack on the Catholic Central Cathedral, also in Garissa, left three people wounded.
Mayor of the small town, Ismail Garat, called the church assault “evil.”
“We are not used to witnessing such kinds of acts in our country, where people are just shot in broad daylight. We really want to know who the heartless people who did this are,” he said.
Ndolo says an investigation will be carried out before assigning any blame, but many suspect the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabaab to be behind the deadly attacks.
Somalia’s Islamist militants have carried out increasingly bloody attacks targeting churches in Kenya, much like Nigeria’s Boko Haram has done in the north.
Garissa, is one of two major towns located near Kenya’s border with the horn of Africa nation. The other is Dadaab, home to nearly half a million Somali refugees.
The AP reports that top security officials have often suggested that the assailants often come from within the refugee camp located in Dadaab, which they say is a security threat to Kenya.
Al-Shabaab, with links to al-Qaeda and distant ties with Nigeria’s Boko Haram, has intensifed its attacks in Kenya since last October when Kenyan troops were sent into Somalia to hunt down the militants.