By: Mikaela Tenner
On April 2, students at Garissa University College in Kenya started their day as usual; waking up, going to class, and attending religious services, completely unaware of the tragedy that would soon unravel. Early in the morning, masked gunmen stormed the campus. Although Kenyan police were soon on the scene, more than 147 students lay dead by the time they were able to kill the terrorists. Al-Shabaab, an infamous Somali terrorist group, soon took responsibility for the assault, which was the most deadly attack on Kenyan soil since the U.S. embassy was bombed in 1998.
Al-Shabaab is a faction of Al-Qaeda based in Somalia. In recent years, Kenyan towns, particularly those close to the Somali border, have become the main target of the terrorist group’s attacks. Garissa is only 90 miles west of Somalia, and its inhabitants are primarily of Somali descent. Over the past few years, Al-Shabaab has carried out a number of attacks in the town, including grenade and machine-gun attacks. Officials have surmised that Al-Shabaab chose to attack a school because they knew that an attack involving youth would easily catch international headlines. The more attention they are able to get internationally, the further fear they will be able to spread, and the more powerful they will become.
One of the most concerning aspects of this attack was that it was clearly targeted at Christians. Students who witnessed the attack described that the attackers went from room to room in the dormitory asking which students were Christian, and which were Muslim. They shot all those who were Christian, and let the Muslim students walk free. After storming the dormitories, the attackers entered a religious service at an on-campus church, and began murdering all those inside. The terrorist group later described the attack as an “operation against the infidels.” Its spokesperson also added that the university had been targeted because it educated Christian students in a “Muslim land under colony.”
This attack adds to fears of persecution of Christians in the Middle East. For nearly a year, ISIS has attracted worldwide attention for its persecution of thousands of Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Christians seem to be a common target for three of the most feared terrorist groups in the Middle East: ISIS, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram. Now, due to Al-Shabaab’s recent activity, Kenya was named as the 19th most dangerous country for Christians in 2014 (up from 43rd in 2013). As this persecution continues to spread, it is becoming dangerous to be a Christian living in the Middle East and Africa.
Unfortunately, many nations in the Middle East and Africa are not strong enough to fight these terrorist groups on their own. Most lack the political infrastructure to efficiently respond to terrorist threats, and this is the reason why terrorist groups have been able to thrive in the region. The United States and other Western nations have offered to help these nations against the terrorist groups, but terrorism has only grown in recent years. If Western nations really do intend to help fight these groups, it is important that they form a more adequate plan, and better methods of irradiating them. One step that may be initially helpful is monitoring travel to the Middle East. Over the past year, thousands of Westerners, particularly from the United States, France, and UK, have moved to the Middle East to join these terrorist groups. If Western countries monitor travel to the Middle East more closely, they may be able to stop these recruits, and help weaken terrorist organizations in this region. Until a firmer plan is made, it is likely that terrorism in these regions will only continue.