NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 30 – A grenade attack killed one child and wounded nine others in a Nairobi church on Sunday, a day after Islamist fighters abandoned their last bastion in neighbouring Somalia in the face of an assault by Kenyan and other troops.
The blast occurred during a service for young children at the Anglican St. Polycarp church, which lies in Pangani on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital.
Blood-stained children’s jackets and shoes lay scattered on the floor, surrounded by remnants of metal walls that were broken and twisted by the force of the explosion.
“One child has died and three others have been seriously injured,” Nairobi police chief Moses Nyakwama said. “We suspect it was a grenade.”
A church official said nine children had been wounded.
“The children who attend this service are aged between six and 10… we usually divide them according to their ages,” said Livingstone Muiruri. “They had just started the morning session when the explosion occurred.”
“We were in the main church so we all ran there to assist the kids,” he said. “We have nine children admitted to hospital.”
Janet Wanja was just entering the church when the blast shook the building.
“I heard a loud explosion and then heard kids screaming,” she said. “I am traumatised by what I saw, kids with injuries and blood all over. “Why are they attacking the church?”
Police were also investigating the possibility that the blast was a result of a bomb that had been placed in the building earlier, Haed of Police Operations in Nairobi, Wilfred Mbithi said.
The church lies next to the Eastleigh quarter, nicknamed “little Mogadishu” because most residents are either Somali refugees or Kenyans of Somali origin.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in a string of grenade attacks, shootings and bomb blasts that have rocked Kenya since it sent troops into southern Somalia in October 2011 to crush bases of Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab fighters, who have vowed revenge.
The Kenyan intervention came in retalitation for suspected Shabaab attacks on its soil.
Sunday’s blast came a day after the Shabaab retreated from their last stronghold in Somalia, leaving the southern port city of Kismayu that has been a vital economic lifeline for the Islamists.
The fall of the port was the latest in a string of major losses of territory for the militia, which has vowed revenge and has switched to guerilla tactics in areas where it has been driven from fixed positions.
Observers say the loss of Kismayu would leave the Shabaab, who once controlled 80 percent of the country, unable to retain large swathes of territory.
Shabaab spokesman Rage warned on Saturday that the militia would remain a threat.
“We are still in the outskirts of Kismayo and it will remain a battle zone… The enemy will not sleep peacefully.”
The deadliest church attack in Kenya was on July 1 when suspected Shabaab militants hurled grenades and opened fire at worshippers in two separate attacks on churches in the northeastern town of Garissa, killing 18 people.