VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the Vatican press office, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, has condemned Sunday’s coordinated attacks against Christian churches in the northern Kenyan town of Garissa, in which at least 17 people were killed and more than 60 others injured.
Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio that the attacks were “horrible” and “deeply worrying,”
“Violence against innocent people gathered peacefully in prayer, is unspeakably vile,” he declared.
Father Lombardi also called for solidarity with the victims of these and all such attacks. “Beyond our closeness to the victims,” he said, “it is necessary to reaffirm and steadfastly to defend the religious liberty of Christians, and to oppose irresponsible acts that feed hatred among different religions.”
The British government Minister for African affairs today in an interview with Vatican Radio also condemned as “completely and totally unacceptable” the attacks on two Christian churches.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Africa, Henry Bellingham, is in Rome for a two-day conference on Somalia, which is seeking to promote stability in that country and a decrease in the violence which has spiraled across the border with neighboring Kenya.
According to a report by Compass Direct News attackers with guns and hand-grenades killed at least 17 people and wounded scores more during worship services at two churches Sunday in Kenya.
Three of those killed were children. Two were police officers standing guard over one of the churches.
Police were guarding the church because of the increasingly dangerous security situation near the border with Somalia and because Somalia’s Islamist militants have made Christian churches a common target, the Associated Press reported.
Both of the attacks occurred in Garissa, a provincial capital about 120 miles west of the Somalia border. According to press reports Garissa is a largely Muslim town of 150,000 with a significant ethnic Somali population.
Kenya’s border region has been tense since it sent troops into Somalia to pursue al-Shabab Islamic militants, the press reports noted.
The first attack began at about 10:15 a.m. at the Africa Inland Church. According to Compass News Direct news reports had varying stories about the attack, but between two and four men approached the church, and shot the two police officers. The attackers took the officers’ guns, and two grenades were thrown into the church.
The second attack occurred about two miles away, at a Catholic church. Hand grenades were lobbed at the church from a moving vehicle, causing serious injuries to at least three people. No fatalities were reported in the second attack.
Police said up to seven gunmen were involved in the attacks, but none had been apprehended, according to the BBC.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said he intends to direct “a thorough investigation concerning this futile terror attack on churches.”
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga condemned Sunday’s deadly attacks on the two churches. Odinga visited Garissa today along with Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and other officials.
Speaking to reporters, he said the attacks were designed to spark conflict between Muslims and Christians, the Voice of America reported.
“Churches are being attacked and the inference here is that Muslims are attacking so that Christians can begin to fight Muslims… We are more intelligent than that,” he said.
In a statement today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attacks reprehensible and criminal.
Muslim clergymen in Garissa have condemned the attack as well. After meeting with the prime minister Monday, local Muslim leader Sheikh Abdisalam Sheikh Mohamed told the Voice of America that, “terrorists are attempting to stir up chaos and hostility among people who co-habit peacefully.”