Churches in Kenya tighten security amid terror threats
Friday, June 28, 2013
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Amos Mathenge Kabuthu, the new head of the African Independent Pentecoastal Church of Africa (AIPCA) displays his Enthronement Certificate after he was enthroned and consecrated as Archbishop of AIPCA at Kasarani sports centre in Nairobi. President Uhuru Kenyatta attended the function on Sunday. XINHUA PHOTO: FRED MUTUNE
The Al-Qaeda allies vowed to attack Kenya for invading Somalia in 2011 to flash them out in their strongholds, inncluding Kismayu
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Two ushers, a man and a woman stand at a door of a church in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.
Holding metal detectors in their right hands, the ushers frisk every person seeking to enter the church.
“What is in your hind pocket ?” the male usher asks a man after the metal detector beeps incessantly. The man dips his hand in his pocket and extracts a bunch of keys.
He is then allowed to pass, but before he enters the church, the man has to pass another security check, involving a scanner and another usher.
At the security check, he empties his pockets and removes his belt as it happens at many airports across the world. The same happens to a woman following him, who opens her bag for inspection.
One is only allowed into the church when the ushers are satisfied that they do not pose security threats. A visitor may find the frisking ‘weird’ but the faithful are used to.
It is one of the measures the church has adopted to enhance worshippers’ security, due to rise in terror attacks in the East African nation perpetuated by sympathizers of Somali-militant group Al-Shabaab.
The Al-Qaeda allies vowed to attack Kenya for invading Somalia in 2011 to flash them out in their strongholds, including Kismayu.
Their attacks have mainly targeted places frequented by the public, including bus termini, bars, shopping malls and churches. Several people have been killed and others maimed in the terror attacks.
While Kenya police have managed to curb Al-Shabaab activities, threats of attack still hang over the nation. The threats remain real. Most places visited by the public in the East African nation have tightened their security.
In churches, nothing is left to chance. Besides employing security guards and buying metal detectors and scanners to enhance security, churches have had to change their programmes for safety of their followers.
Some have done away with night vigils, which used to start at 8 p.m. until morning. Others have changed their sitting arrangement and created emergency doors to ease movement of people, especially in case of a crisis.
For others, they had to shelve programmes involving the youth, which used to happen evenings, and Sunday schools for children.
Terrorists were targeting such events because they were happening away from main church services thus there was minimal security provided.
In a shocking incident last September, Al-Shabaab sympathizers attacked a Sunday school at an Anglican Church in Eastleigh, killing one child and injuring several others.
“Ever since Al-Shabaab started targeting places of worship, churches have enhanced safety. We are now being frisked to enter places of worship, something that never used to happen before. Places of worship were always secure,” Mary Ngima, who attends service at Light Christian Centre in Eastlands, noted on Saturday.
Ngima recounted that they now go to church at least 45 minutes before the start of the service so that they can be frisked.
“No one is allowed to come late unless you want to be locked out. We always arrive at the church, queue and then we are frisked as we enter. Once you have been checked, you are not allowed to move out of the building,” she said.
Women at the church have been discouraged to attend service with their handbags. Similarly, worshippers are told to leave their mobile phones at home if they can.
“When terror attacks intensified, we contributed money to buy metal detectors and hire security guards. The guards were there for about two months. They then left. Now, it is our ushers who do the work,” she said.
At Holy Family Basilica in the central business district in the capital, things are no different. The church, which has experienced security threats several times before, has intensified security.
All worshippers must be frisked as they enter the church, with faithful being discouraged to carry luggage. “Some people, especially those who have travelled from upcountry, used to come with luggage in the church. But this practice has been discouraged, “ noted Mark Mutunga.
Mutunga said the church has not disrupted its programmes, including its Sunday school, however security has been tightened.
“Even children are frisked when entering the church. It is for their safety. Threats of terror attack remain real,” he said.
George Obindo, a youth pastor at God’s Sanctuary in Nairobi’s Eastlands, said threats of terror attack have affected churches greatly.
“We have intensified security but worshippers still feel insecure, especially when attacks happen in other places or police kill terrorists. However, worshippers have been supportive. They have helped us buy metal detectors and supported when we cancelled night prayers,” said Obindo.
He added that churches have no choice but to put in place security measures to enhance safety of faithful since threats of terror attack are here to stay.