Attack-Prone Kenya Will Deploy 20,000 People to Keep Pope Safe

  • Islamist militants have carried out several attacks in Kenya
  • Pope Francis to visit Kenya, Uganda, Central Africa Republic

Kenya will deploy 10,000 security personnel and as many civilian organizers to help keep Pope Francis safe when he visits the East African nation next week, the police said.

The head of the Catholic Church will arrive in the capital, Nairobi, on Nov. 25 for a two-day visit. Two years ago, Islamist militants attacked an upmarket shopping mall in the city and killed at least 67 people. Attacks across the country since then have left about 500 people dead, according to Verisk Maplecroft, a Bath, England-based risk consultancy. The pope is the highest profile dignitary to travel to Kenya since U.S. President Barack Obama’s three-day visit in July.

“We just hosted President Obama, who could probably be a bigger target,” police spokesman Charles Owino said by phone from Nairobi. “Given our proximity to Somalia and the active al-Qaeda cell there, we cannot take anything for granted.”

Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the Nairobi mall attack in 2013 and others including an assault on a university in northeastern Kenya seven months ago. At least 147 people, most of them Christian students, died in the raid. Adherents of the insurgent group have targeted Kenyan churches in grenade attacks and massacred more than two dozen Christian passengers traveling on a bus near the Somali border in November 2014.

Million Visitors

Nairobi’s population is expected to swell by 1 million people during the papal visit, Manoah Esipisu, spokesman for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, said in an e-mailed statement. Many of those expected to welcome the pope will come from neighboring countries on a continent that accounts for about 16 percent of the Catholic Church’s 1.1 billion members.

Unlike Obama’s visit, when the government requested Kenyans stay at home, authorities will this time ask people to flock into the city to cheer for the pontiff and celebrate mass with him, Esipisu said.

Francis will hold mass at the University of Nairobi’s sports grounds in the center of the city on Nov. 26 and visit a church in Nairobi’s Kangemi slum the following day.

After leaving Kenya, Francis will visit a Ugandan shrine for 22 Catholic converts killed in the 1880s by order of Baganda King Mwanga II. The so-called People’s Pope will also stop at a refugee camp in the Central Africa Republic’s capital, Bangui, on Nov. 29, in the first-ever visit to the country by a pontiff. The nation has been gripped by violence pitting Christians against Muslims since the March 2013 overthrow of President Francois Bozize.

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