By Nathan Johnson
01/31/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “Our Catholic church has been here for over 40 years and we have been living in peace with the different communities living in Marsabit. This was a surprise to us and we urge the Muslim community to keep calm and respect other people’s freedom of worship. In total, 73 glass windows and wind screens of our three vehicles [were] broken by the agitated youth. We have incurred absolute loss,” said Bishop Kihara Peter.
On January 13, the Catholic church of Marsabit town was destroyed by rioting Muslim youth who were protesting the arrest of a local Islamic teacher, Sheikh Guyo Gorsa, by the anti-terror police unit (ATPU). The sheikh was trailed and arrested on suspicion of radicalization, recruitment of youths to join the al-Shabaab terror group in Somalia, and having constant communication with al-Shabaab leaders.
Bishop Peter’s sentiments were reiterated by other locals who felt the loss as well. During the unrest, many Christian-owned homes and businesses were attacked, three young men were killed, and more than 20 people were injured. Desmond Oloo, a resident of Marsabit who witnessed the incident, confirmed the information to International Christian Concern (ICC), “It was a sad ordeal in Marsabit. The Madrasa students torched buildings, looted businesses, and broke into a nearby Catholic church compound where they attacked the daytime watchman. They stoned the windows, doors, and church vehicles,” leaving only after the total destruction was complete.
The Sunday following the riots, a majority of Christians in Marsabit did not attend church services for fear of being attacked by the radicalized youth. Pastor William Godana of the Africa Inland Church (AIC) Marsabit informed ICC that the tension is still overwhelming, “This past Sunday many people did not attend worship services while some churches remained closed because the Muslim students who were taught by Sheikh Guyo Gorsa were still very rattled and they had threatened to petro bomb churches in retaliation to the arrest of their teacher.”
He is not the only Christian leader who believes that these students were targeting Christians. While speaking with ICC, Reverend Jeremiah Omar of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Marsabit shared, “When the Muslim cleric was arrested, the Muslim youth went through the streets looting and burning shops and properties belonging to Christians and sparing those belonging to Muslim traders. They also wanted to destroy our church, but we had police officers in the compound and so they could not attack. They gained access to the Catholic church and went on a rampage damaging the church building and vehicles.”
Security has been heightened in all of the churches in Marsabit town as the Muslim community awaits the court ruling on the matter. Sheikh Guyo Gorsa was arrested in 2014 in the coastal region of the country for the same reason. He was later released however. He has been remanded to police custody for 30 days to allow time for investigation.
Marsabit borders Wajir to the east, Turkana to the west, Isiolo to the south and the country of Ethiopia to the north. Though Christianity is the main religion, comprising 40% of the population in Marsabit County, Islam is a close second with Muslims estimated to make up 35%. The Muslim population has also been increasing gradually due to an influx of Somali traders in Marsabit and Moyale towns.