NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan clerics across the religious divide vowed Tuesday to not allow sectarian violence to erupt following attacks on churches over the weekend that killed at least 15 people.
The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya said Muslims will form vigilante groups alongside Christians to guard churches in Kenya's North Eastern Province, where the latest attacks occurred.
Adan Wachu, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and the chairman of Inter-Religious Council, said the weekend attacks, which are being blamed on an al-Qaida-linked militant group from Somalia, are meant to trigger sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims.
Wachu said clerics will actively preach against retaliation to prevent violence from spreading in Kenya like it has in Nigeria, where attacks on churches by a Muslim sect has ignited a spiral of violence
"This is not a religious war and it has to be addressed from a different paradigm shift," he said.
Gunmen on Sunday killed two policemen guarding the African Inland Church, snatched their rifles and then opened fire on the congregation from inside and out, killing 15 people. A simultaneous attack took place on a Catholic church in the same area of the eastern Kenyan town of Garissa.
Areas of northern and eastern Kenya along the border with Somalia have suffered a series of gunfire and grenade attacks over the last year. Militants attacked a church in Garissa in December, killing two people.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia last October to hunt al-Shabab fighters. The militants, who are allied with al-Qaida, have threatened repeatedly to carry out revenge attacks for Kenya's push into Somalia. Sunday's attacks appear to be part of that trend.
Wachu said five people, two of them Muslim clerics, had been killed in northern Kenya since late last year for speaking out against al-Shabab.
Boniface Adoyo, a Christian cleric and an official of the council, complained of a series of attacks on Christian institutions that no one has been jailed for.
Religious leaders who incite their followers should be charged under the provision of laws against hate speech, which were designed to curtail instigation of violence by politicians following postelection violence in 2007-08, Adoyo said.
"Anybody inciting religious worshippers for evil actions, that is hate speech and it also covers whatever we do in our temples and in our mosques," he said.
At the United Nations in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks.
"These attacks, which deliberately targeted places of worship, are reprehensible and criminal," Ban said in a statement. "No cause can justify the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. The perpetrators of these attacks, and of other recent terrorist acts in Kenya, must be held to account."
Associated Press writer Ron DePasquale contributed from the United Nations.