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By Nathan Johnson

01/11/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)Churches in Ijara, Kenya, part of Garissa County, have remained closed for the past two Sundays due to the constant threat of Somalia-based terror group, al-Shabaab. Residents of Garissa have been living in increased fear for the past several weeks because insurgents raided and burned down two Ijara police stations, escaping with a police patrol vehicle and destroying a communication mast in a dawn attack on December 30, 2017.

Esther Boniface, a non-local who teaches in Masalani town Ijara, spoke to International Christian Concern (ICC) and expressed her concerns about living and working in Garissa. “This is the second Sunday we are remaining indoors and worshiping from our homes. The churches are closed and nobody is allowed to gather in any public place. The tension is even too high for non-locals who live in rented houses. These houses have been a target for al-Shabaab because most of the non-locals who have come here to work are Christians.”

This constant fear of attack has not only affected churches and public operations, but is also causing schools to seek greater security, as they have been targeted in the past. “Many schools have also closed down with others merging and having police officers guarding day and night to make sure that nobody plants improved explosive devices (IEDs) in the school compound or inside classes,” Esther added. In April 2015, 148 students were killed in cold blood at Garissa University when a group of six militants stormed the university at dawn, separating the students according to their religion, while sparing Muslim students.

Pastor John* of Redeemed Church confirmed to ICC the effects of the dwindling security to churches in Ijara. “Christians are a minority group here and the head of security has warned us of meeting in churches. There are escalating fears that the Somali terror group is planning to attack churches in Ijara, after the recent raiding of police stations. We have been avoiding our church premise for two weeks now for fear of being attacked and this is a big discouragement to us.”

Even some of the local Muslims are concerned about the dangers to their Christian neighbors. ICC spoke with Abdullah, a private school owner in Garissa County, who said, “We, as the Muslim community in Garissa, are saddened by the current situation of insecurity caused by al-Shabaab. We have seen a huge exodus of workers leaving for other safer places in the country and that affects the development in our area. Let the two governments of Kenya and Somalia sit and save the situation. When our Christian friends suffer, we also suffer.”

Ijara is located approximately 100 kilometers from Lamu with at least a quarter of the local area covered by the dense Boni Forest, a major hideout for al-Shabaab fighters. It borders Somalia to the northeast and 80 percent of the population is comprised of ethnic Somali Muslims.

Ijara Member of Parliament Sophia Abdinoor has urged the citizens of Ijara not to leave, but to give the government time to tighten up security and surveillance in the area. “I urge the teachers, nurses and other civil workers not leave Ijara and the larger Garissa County yet but instead give us some more time as we work on fixing the state of insecurity witnessed in the past couple of days. The government will be sending more police officers to guard the towns, schools, churches, and other social services institutions,” she said, while addressing the residents of Ijara.

We pray that the Kenyan government is able to effectively protect the people of Ijara and Garissa County as a whole. If they are unable to end the reign of terror that al-Shabaab has had over eastern Kenya, we fear that Christianity will continue to suffer and may eventually leave the area altogether for safer locations.

*Name changed for security