By Josephat Siror
Several worshipers were on Sunday evacuated from the sanctuary at Holy Family Basilica Catholic church in Nairobi following a bomb scare that almost dented the Christmas mood.
Worshipers had converged for a 10am church service when unease begun inside the church. Experts from the anti-terror unit were called in after the scare in the church and undertook thorough screening of worshipers. Photo: Standard
Plainclothes officers had surrounded the church after a tip off that all was not well.
Experts from the anti-terror unit were called in after the scare in the church and undertook thorough screening of worshipers. Photo: Standard
The officers proceeded to the church, where they interrupted an ongoing mass. At this point, the worshipers were quickly urged to vacate the church but no explanation was given to them.
Witnesses however said some officers told them that materials of explosives in nature had been detected inside the church.
Nairobi Police Provincial Officer (PPO) Anthony Kibuchi said a church member spotted a suspicious individual prompting a security alert that was immediately relayed to police officers on standby.
"A suspicious-looking person was seen and following alertness sounded by Police Commissioner (Mathew Iteere), we were informed of the person by a mwananchi (citizen) and that is why we are here," said Mr Kibuchi.
Kibuchi told journalists that a thorough clearance to weed out any possibility of a bomb was immediately sanctioned in the church where the officers found ‘nothing.’
"We have checked and cleared everywhere including church compound but actually there was nothing," Mr Kibuchi told journalists outside Holy Family church.
Mr Kibuchi appealed to Kenyans to remain on high alert and report any suspicious individuals. "I want to appeal to everyone to be alert especially this time when we are fighting with Al-shabaab," Kibuchi added.
Congregants were subjected to security check outside the church. Experts from the anti-terror unit who were called in after the scare in the church undertook thorough screening of worshipers.
It later emerged that a jacket picked by sniffer dogs could have triggered the scare in the church. "One of the dogs picked the jacket which was left unattended," said a security officer who declined to be named as he is not allowed to speak to the press.
The jacket was taken away for further examination by police but no arrests were made during the search.
A contingent of armed General Service unit (GSU) officers, plainclothes security agents and regular police kept vigil as bomb experts screened the worshipers using a sophisticated device.
Later, the service presided over by Cardinal John Njue went on as security officers kept popping in and out of the church. The Holy Family Basilica is normally frequented by high profile officials including President Mwai Kibaki.
An angry-looking Cardinal Njue however declined to comment much on the bomb scare and instead appealed for harmony in the country.
Security agencies have been on high alert especially this Christmas season following reports of possibility of attack by Somali Al-Shabaab militants. On Saturday two suspects surrendered to police in Nairobi hours after police spokesman Eric Kiraithe issued an alert about them.
Kiraithe said the two had "vital information" on Al Shabaab activities in Kenya.
Elsewhere in the city, churches remained on high alert following threats of attack. At Milimani AIC church, every person was checked at the entrance. Similar checks were also conducted at All Saints Cathedral Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK).
Church leaders sent out Christmas messages punctuated with peace and security for the country. Anglican Bishop Eliud Wabukhala urged Kenyans to coexist and pray for soldiers battling Al-Shabaab.
"Lets us all come together as Kenyans…. and pray for our soldiers," Dr Wabukhala appealed.
Archbishop Macarius of Othordox church appealed for peace and security in the country.