By Adow Jubat and Boniface Ongeri
It was a scene from hell with overturned wooden benches, pools of blood and the stench of death.
Face down under a table in the African Inland Church in Garissa lay the body of a woman, cut down by a hail of bullets on the very day she had dedicated to worship and give thanks to God for his blessings.
She was among 17 Kenyans killed when four cowardly, masked gunmen chose to turn their weapons on worshippers in two churches in Garissa, leaving behind shattered lives.
However, the number of dead could go up.
Those who survived the attack inside the AIC church ran out only to meet a burst of heavy gunfire that claimed more lives. Up to 60 badly wounded worshippers were rushed to hospital.
The heartbreaking pictures from the two churches, many of which we cannot show because of issues of taste and sensitivity captured the somber mood that engulfed a town that has borne the brunt of reprisal attacks by sympathisers of the Somalia-based Al Shabaab.
What started as a normal peaceful Sunday for the minority Christian faithful the town turned bloody after suspected members of the Islamist terrorist group Al Shabaab carried out triple grenade attacks in two churches and at a market in the town simultaneously.
Twelve people died at the AIC Churches but the number increased after six more succumbed to serious injuries at the Garissa Provincial hospital where they had been rushed for treatment.
Garissa town was in shock as word spread that armed militants had killed eight women, four men, three children and two police officers.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga will tomorrow lead a Government security team to the town that is expected to include acting Internal Security minister Yusuf Haji.
Also expected in the town is Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who yesterday called for calm in the wake of the attacks that left up to 17 people dead by the time of going to press.
While admitting that the country is faced with an uphill task in the war against terror, Musyoka asked Kenyans to remain peaceful and assured that the Government is dealing with the situation. “This country cannot be intimidated with (sic) people whose ideology is to maim Kenyans,” he stated.
Haji cancelled his visit to Burundi and was on his way back from Bujumbura last evening.
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Dujis MP Aden Duale, in whose constituency the attack took place, also cancelled his tour of Rift Valley where he had accompanied Eldoret North MP William Ruto and his URP brigade on a political tour and returned to Nairobi.
Opened fire randomly
Haji is expected to address the media today while Duale told journalists upon arrival at Wilson Airport from Kericho that he was completely devastated by the attack and called for the speedy arrest of those behind it.
“I condemn this attack in the strongest terms possible. It is unacceptable that people can be killed in broad daylight. The Government should not allow defenceless people to be killed indiscriminately,” said Dualle.
The dead include two police officers that were on duty at the AIC church.
Police say the attacks occurred simultaneously on Sunday morning as the congregations were in deep prayer. No arrests had been made so far.
Witnesses said the attackers at the AIC who were wearing balaclavas and identical clothes moved into the centre of the church armed with guns and began firing indiscriminately.
They had earlier snatched guns from police officers who usually man the churches in the wake of increased terror-related attacks in the region.
The blast that occurred at the Catholic Church is believed to have been a grenade attack that also injured the man who threw it at the praying congregation while a second grenade failed to explode.
At the AIC church, the attackers used two rifles they allegedly grabbed from the two officers to shoot at the congregation.
“They went to the middle of the congregation and opened fire randomly. This is not acceptable,” said North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Serian.
He added that another grenade was thrown at a local market, but no injuries were reported.
“It seems to have been a well coordinated attack but we are pursuing them. They attacked innocent people in churches,” he said on the phone.
The attackers at the Catholic Church did not get into the worship area, but threw the explosives over the fence because the officers deployed at the entrance had been screening those getting into the compound.
“It is shocking because the bodies are lying in the church and so far we have no clue where the attackers are,” said a senior officer in the area.
Speaking from the AIC church compound he said: “There is confusion and panic everywhere. You can hear police sirens moving from one point to the other in pursuit of possible leads. All roads are closed as part of the hunt on the attackers but no arrest has been made.”
Ole Serian said three children were injured inside the Catholic Church, but luckily the second grenade did not explode.
Speaking to the press at one of the scenes of the attack the North-Eastern Deputy PPO Philip Ndolo said 15 people were confirmed dead including police officers guarding one of the attacked churches and forty others were injured majority with gun wounds.
The number, however, increased and there were others fighting for there lives at hospitals intensive care unit as we went to press.
The deputy PPO said that in the first incident, four gunmen armed with AK47 at 10.30am stormed AIC and disarmed two police officers guarding the worshippers of their G3 rifles before shooting them dead.
Two of the attackers entered the fully packed church and indiscriminately shot the Christian faithful as some of attackers remained outside the church to mow down those who would try fleeing for their lives.
Mandera East MP Mohamed Hussein condemned the cowardly attack that killed many people and maimed others and blamed the same gang for having attacked Arabia town in Mandera the previous day.
“We need to bring these senseless killings to an end before the situation worsens,” said the MP on telephone.