Police hunt for suspect who fled after killer blast

What you need to know:

  • One dead and pastor among 16 injured in the second attack on city church in two years

Police were on Sunday looking for a young man behind a grenade attack that killed one person and injured 16 others during a church service in Nairobi.

Witnesses said the young man, in his 20s, was in the congregation at God’s House of Miracles International Church in Ngara and had at one time left the premises, but returned after a change of clothes.

He left his seat at the front row moments before the blast.

“He was new in our church. When he initially sat at the back he was wearing a red sleeveless sweater. He walked out and returned after 15 minutes in a heavy dark jacket. When I realised he was dressed differently, I did not question him because it is unGodly to even suspect a fellow worshipper.

“At around 8.50am he stood up while prayers were going on and threw something that looked like a bottle towards the altar. The object exploded causing a pandemonium,” said Mr Abel Khamala, one of the church’s stewards.

The guard on duty, Mr Morris Atsali, said they do not screen faithful.

“We do not screen people here because we believe all are Christians with good intentions,” he said. Among the injured was Pastor Josephine Wangari, who was leading the prayers.

Church members ran after the suspect, but he drew a gun and shot at them before he disappeared into a residential estate in Ngara.

Three bullet cartridges were recovered metres from the scene.

“Police are pursuing crucial leads provided by eye witnesses to establish the identity of the assailant,” police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.

Mr Kiraithe added: “The Commissioner of Police also wishes to assure that this crime will be thoroughly investigated and is appealing to the public not to speculate on the motive behind it.”

Nairobi deputy police boss Moses Ombati said: “Reports from our experts have confirmed that the explosive was indeed a grenade. Five of those injured are in a critical state.”

The victims were rushed to Guru Nanak and Kenyatta National hospitals.

The attack came barely a week after the United States embassy warned of imminent terror attacks in Nairobi.

The dispatch on Tuesday last week said plans to attack tourist hotels and government buildings were at an advanced stage.

Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Kenya since October last year when Kenyan troops crossed the border to fight the militia in their own country.

In March, four people died when a grenade was hurled at a crowd at Machakos Bus terminus in Nairobi, injuring 42 others. In Mombasa one person was killed and 10 others injured when a grenade was hurled at a church crusade in Mtwapa.

Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti asked police to investigate the attack and appealed to Kenyans to report to police whenever they came across suspicious persons.

CID director Ndegwa Muhoro, who visited the scene, said his officers were closing in on the culprits.

“We are not leaving anything to chance whether it’s terrorism or any other criminal activity. We shall also consider the fact the church is near a piece of land with a disputed ownership,” he added.

The grenade exploded at the front of the church where the pastor was standing, surrounded by a small group of faithful while they prayed.

A safety pin and other grenade fragments were recovered at the scene.

It’s not the first time that assailants have raided the church. A man was killed when attackers threw a petrol bomb in the church two years ago and set fire to vehicles parked outside.

Police sources who spoke to the Nation separately said the search was concentrated in Majengo and Juja Road estates, where Al-Shabaab cells are known to be active.

Additional reporting by Sandra Chao