Kenya’s Clergy Urge All Faiths to Account for Their Youth After Terrorist Attack

Civilians flee as security forces aim their weapons at a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya, on Jan. 15, 2019. Extremists launched a deadly attack on a luxury hotel in Kenya’s capital, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

MUCHATHA, Kenya (RNS) – When pastors and priests in this Nairobi suburb preach to their flocks, violent extremism is rarely a topic.

A coffee-growing area turned bedroom community, Muchatha is populated by a wide variety of traders, farmers, artisans and city workers who worship side by side on Sundays in the Roman Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Anglican and some Pentecostal churches that stand practically next to one other on the town’s streets.

So residents were shocked to hear that one of the Islamist militants involved in last week’s (Jan. 15) attack on Dusit D2, a business and office complex in Nairobi, had lived among them.

Ali Salim Gichunge, allegedly one of the masterminds of the Dusit D2 terrorist attack, rented a bungalow for the past year in Guango, a middle-class development in town. After months of meticulous planning, authorities said, Gichunge and five other militants stormed the complex, killing 21 people and injuring an unspecified number before being killed themselves by Kenyan special forces.

CCTV footage of Ali Salim Gichunge before attacking the Dusit D2 complex on Jan. 15, 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Dusit D2

Neighbors describe Gichunge as an ordinary, respectful youth, despite his habit, widely shared among the town’s young people, of announcing his presence with a roaring car engine and loud pop music.

“He often bought one liter of Coca-Cola and some chewing gum. He would ask me to keep the change. This (his alleged involvement in the attack) is very shocking,” said a young shopkeeper near Gichunge’s home.

With his cleanshaven head and goatee, Gichunge, alias Farouk Idris, didn’t match the typical image of jihadists, normally identified by their full beards, Islamic dress or frequent shouts of “Allahu akbar.”

The same could be said of Violet Kemunto Omwoyo, reportedly Gichunge’s wife and a former Christian, who often accompanied him in Muchatha and who was said to be on the run after last Tuesday’s attacks. Always clad in hijab, Omwoyo, aka Khadija, is a graduate of journalism and public relations from Masinde Muliro University in western Kenya.

According to analysts, the new crop of radicalized Islamists is well-educated, and its members live ordinary lives and are not easy to detect.

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Source: Religion News Service