NAIROBI, Kenya — Bishop Wilybard Lagho of Malindi has appealed for calm in Lamu, as tensions gripped the coastal region following attacks on villages and kidnappings by suspected al-Shabab militants.
On Jan. 3, the number of the dead reached seven after a 62-year-old man was killed in an attack, in which several houses were burned. The attacks — linked to the Somalia-based al-Qaida affiliate — started Jan. 2, with the kidnapping of one person, who was later shot dead in the village as another four were burned in their house.
Two other people were kidnapped, and a village elder was found butchered. Those kidnapped are usually used to identify future villages for attacks, according to church sources.
“I appeal for calm. I also convey my condolences to the families that have lost relatives,” said Lagho, whose diocese extends to Lamu Island, an Indian Ocean archipelago that lies about 60 miles from Kenya’s border with Somalia.
The bishop told Catholic News Service that the attacks have occurred in areas occupied by migrants, the majority of them Christians from central Kenya who settled there in the 1970s. The people are often the soft targets of the insurgents in the conflict, often caused by identity and questions around land ownership, Lagho said.
Reports indicate local people fearing more attacks had started fleeing the region.
“The insurgents are using terror tactical maneuvers possibly acquired from the al-Shabab training,” the bishop said.
Churches of various denominations are affected by the frequent violence, the bishop explained. Past attacks have forced displacement, diminished church attendance, affected investments and disrupted farming activities. Local church resources and activities have been rendered unsustainable, with a large part of the population traumatized.
The government said it has increased security in the region and ordered a 30-day night curfew in parts of Lamu.
In 2014, at least 100 men were killed, 50 houses and 30 vehicles burned after heavily armed militants raided areas in Lamu.
“The government should identify and disclose the financiers of the insurgents and their agenda,” Lagho said, noting that more security without changing people’s mindsets was inadequate.
The bishop said the violence had increased Islamophobia among Christians in Lamu County. He said pastors and imams have urged the government to solve the multiple issues that the insurgents use to polarize the local communities.
Under the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics, which includes Catholic priests, some clerics are already working in the area.
“The situation is not good, and the people are leaving because of fear. We are planning a major visit to the region,” Sheikh Mohamed Abdulkadir, council chairman, told CNS.
Sheikh Abdulkadir said the attacks were aimed at killing people, creating chaos and dealing a blow to the right to life of every human being.