Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta appealed for religious tolerance in the largely Christian nation following an attack claimed by Islamist militants on a shopping mall in the capital that left at least 67 people dead.
“We have been attacked by terrorists who cannot stand our way of life as a united society,” Kenyatta said today at a multi-faith prayer meeting in Nairobi.
“But we fought back as one people, and continue to nurse our grievous wound together. We will heal each others’ wounds and defend our nation together.”
Kenya is home to 31.9 million Christians, 4.3 million Muslims, more than 53,000 followers of Hinduism and the rest of the country’s 38.6 million people hold traditional beliefs or aren’t religious, according to the 2009 census.
In the mall assault that began Sept. 21, gunmen stormed the upscale complex lobbing grenades and firing automatic weapons in the deadliest attack since al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi 15 years ago. It took four days for security personnel to end the siege, which killed 57 Kenyans and nationals of countries including Canada, Ghana and China. Five of the attackers were also killed, according to the government.
Al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the raid on the Westgate Mall, carrying out a threat to attack Kenya it made two years ago after the country deployed troops in Somalia to fight the militants. The Kenyan incursion started after the government blamed al-Shabaab for kidnapping foreigners and killing a British tourist on its soil.
The militia has warned of further bloodshed unless Kenya withdraws its forces, which account for about a quarter of the more than 17,000-member African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Al-Shabaab is trying to impose strict Islamic law in the Horn of African nation.
“It is they, having had enough of killing themselves in their own country, decided to come and interfere in Kenya, kidnapping people and taking hostages,” Kenyatta said. “We will stay there until they bring order in their nation.”
Kenya, which hosts one of the world’s largest refugee camps called Dadaab in the country’s north, has been supporting Somalis who have fled civil war in their own nation for more than 20 years, said Kenyatta. The facility hosts about 474,000 refugees, mostly Somalis, according to the United Nations.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The security committee in Kenya’s parliament has called for the closure of the Dadaab camp, saying it was an entry point and training ground for “terrorists,” the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper said yesterday, citing its head Asman Kamama.
A commission of inquiry is examining how Kenya failed to detect preparations for the shopping-mall incident and measures to avoid such a situation in the future, Kenyatta said.
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