Jason Patinkin is a freelance writer and photographer from Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from Columbia University in New York City, he taught middle school science for three years to some extremely brilliant young adults on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Jason is now based in Nairobi, Kenya where he believes he has found the world’s best cup of coffee.
NAIROBI, Kenya — “It came time to pray for the children and we heard a bang,” said Paris Gikonyo, who was attending services at St. Polycarp Church in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood when a bomb exploded in the adjacent Sunday school. “I had two grandchildren in there, so I rushed over. Everyone ran over to save the children.”
The injured children were taken to nearby hospitals, where a nine-year-old boy was pronounced dead on arrival. Three others were in critical condition.
Hours after the blast, churchgoers, many still in their Sunday best, picked their way over the rubble to see what was left. In the concrete floor, the explosion left a hole about six inches deep and over a foot in diameter. From there, the building’s corrugated siding was peeled back from floor to ceiling. Light streamed through hundreds of tiny holes in the roof made by the bomb’s shrapnel. An investigator collected tiny ball-bearings from the debris.
The attacker entered using a disputed footpath that the city council recently opened to public access. The church had wanted the path closed for security reasons, said a church official.
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Police suspect the radical Al-Shabaab group was behind the bombing. Al-Shabaab has been accused of a string of attacks on churches, bars, and bus stops, coinciding with Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia. Sunday’s attack occurred amidst controversy over a new anti-terror law.
Outside the church, some Christians praised the law as necessary to prevent future violence, but Samir Ibrahim, administrator of Kenya’s largest mosque, Jamia Mosque, said the law violates civil liberties and the constitution.
Eastleigh is sometimes called “Little Mogadishu,” and Sunday’s bombing sent ripples through the Somali community. Sirat Farah, who is Muslim, lives across the street from the church and heard the explosion from her home. “I don’t feel safe anymore,” she said. “Anything can happen.”
In retaliation for the attack, Christian youths threw rocks at mosques, and a mob injured thirteen Somalis. Last night, police rounded up young Somali refugees in Eastleigh, said Mohammed Abdullah, 23. He said the round-up was the fourth this year, and police often harass and collect bribes from Somali refugees who don’t have proper identification. Abdullah fled Somalia almost eight years ago. He came to Eastleigh, while his brothers went to Denmark.
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Eastleigh’s streets are dusty and unpaved, and some buildings look like they belong in the real Mogadishu. Abdullah, like many others, is unemployed and relies on relatives for support. Poor and disenfranchised, Somalis here seem likely candidates for radicalism.
But Libar Mohammed, a high school student who arrived three years ago, says life in Kenya is much better than in Somalia, where his peers were forced to fight in the wars. Likewise, Abdullah openly criticized Al-Shabaab. “I want Somalia to be without terrorism,” he said.
Now that terror is in Eastleigh, though, the young refugee thinks about Denmark.