As quarry workers slept early Tuesday morning in tents by their worksite outside Mandera, a Kenyan border city tucked between Ethiopia and Somalia, Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked.
The Muslims were reportedly separated from the non-Muslims, who were then murdered by gunshots at close range or beheading. Thirty-six men were killed.
The Kenyan government said Tuesday that there was no proof Al-Shabaab was exclusively targeting the Christians.
“We cannot say the Christians are the ones mostly targeted because even in the past, Muslims have been killed, and as we talk, everyone is worried,” North Eastern Regional Police Commander Patrick Lumumba said, according to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper. “The terrorists have no tribe or religion. The people can rest assured that these attacks are not directed at any certain tribe or religion.”
But Al-Shabaab’s media arm posted a statement saying the attack on Christian “crusaders” was in response to Kenya’s “occupation of Muslim lands” and “ongoing atrocities” toward Muslims in Somalia “as well as the continued suffering of Muslims in Mombasa.”
“As Kenya persists in its occupation of Muslim lands, kills innocent Muslims, transgresses upon their sanctities and throws them into prisons, we, Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, will persist to defend our land and our people from their aggression,” said Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage. “We are uncompromising in our beliefs, relentless in our pursuit, ruthless against the disbelievers and we will do whatever necessary to defend our Muslim brethren suffering from Kenya’s aggression.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan condemned the attacks “targeting innocent civilians.”
“The United States will continue to support Kenya and our regional partners in combating terrorism and violent extremism and protecting human rights,” Meehan said in the brief statement issued by the White House.
“It is shocking. It’s horrific. It’s grotesque. It’s barbaric,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, told CNN today.
“Whether it’s Al-Shabaab, whether it’s al-Qaeda, whether it’s the Taliban, whether it’s ISIL, they have one global jihadist network at play and that is anti-Western, anti-democracy, anti-Christian, and it’s to establish this extreme caliphate throughout the world,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “So we’ve got to be ever-vigilant.”
While Al-Shabaab makes bloody incursions into Kenya, an 82.5 percent Christian country, their jihadist brothers in Iraq have been doing their best to decimate the oldest centers of Christianity.
At a Hudson Institute event in Washington today, senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom Nina Shea noted that the Mosul Dam “can be reclaimed and recaptured and can be business as usual,” but religious minorities left shivering in tents and unfinished buildings in Kurdistan have lost their communities in Iraq.
Not only has ISIS persecuted Christians and driven them from their homes in a conflict that could drag on interminably, she said, but in the meantime others may be benefiting from their seized land and homes.
Here in the United States, Shea added, “We have barely recognized that this is the eradication of the Christian presence.”
After ISIS seized the 4th-century monastery of St. Behnam in Nineveh last summer, terrorists torched about 1,500 Biblical manuscripts.
Amal Marogy, a Britain-based Kirkuk native, founded the Aradin Charitable Trust — meaning “Garden of Eden” in Aramaic — in 2013 in an effort to preserve nearly two millennia of Christianity now subject to systematic religious cleansing. She told the Hudson audience that they were asked by a priest to come help preserve a 12th century fresco in one town, but ISIS moved in before they could get there.
“The way that Christian communities are treated in the Middle East is an indication of how other minorities are going to be treated,” she said. “If Christian communities are targeted, you can be sure other communities are going to follow suit.”
Marogy brought photos of refugee encampments, including tents erected in the middle of nowhere and along roadsides. One image showed a refugee family’s tent marked by a cross over the entrance.
“They’ve lost absolutely everything,” she said, but survived with their faith. “When you ask them was it worth it, they say yes, it was really worth it.”
“It is the freedom that is really important — they have the cross there to say yes, I’m still free… This is the last link to a culture that is not going to be there any longer, a culture that has lasted for 2,000 years and now we don’t know what is going to happen to them.”
Marogy told the story of two nuns taken hostage by ISIS, one a distant cousin of hers. They were given the standard ISIS choices: convert, pay or die.
To convert, the nuns told the terrorists, was “not an option.” To pay, they didn’t have money. So, Marogy said they told ISIS, “We are very happy to die for our faith.”
A terrorist wanted the nuns to replace their habits with Islamic clothes; they refused. They also refused to give up their rosaries, telling ISIS that the cross is “a symbol of love.”
Talking to the terrorist, Marogy said, one of the nuns told him “you cannot kill any person in the name of God because God is in any person.”
“Where is God in me?” the terrorist barked back in what became a “hideous debate.”
“You cannot see him because of your hideous deeds,” the nun replied. After that exchange, Marogy said, the nuns were treated better by that one terrorist.
At a nomination hearing today, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted the “horrific attacks” suffered by ethnic and religious minority communities in northern Iraq, “including the Christians.”
“Several years ago, the government of Iraq issued an order to begin establishing the Nineveh Plain police force, a security force recruited from those vulnerable communities to provide local protection. U.S. forces in Iraq at the time supported the effort, but the Nineveh force never attained its goal of 5,000 police personnel,” Levin said.
“Does the military assistance planned for Iraq include training and equipping local security forces in vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities such as the Yazidis and the Christian communities in Nineveh to empower those communities to defend themselves from ISIL?” he asked.
Elissa Slotkin, President Obama’s nominee for assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, said the U.S. would “certainly welcome and support representatives of all the groups, particularly the most vulnerable, in our training program.”
“It has not yet begun, but there’s no reason why representatives from the entire spectrum shouldn’t be in it,” she said.
“Is it part of our plan specifically that the religious communities be focused on so that they can have the power to defend themselves?” Levin pressed.
“There is no group that is excluded or included right now,” Slotkin replied.