Prayers held for Westgate victims
Posted Wednesday, October 2 2013 at 01:00
Clerics from Kenya’s Inter-Religious Council called for national unity, reconciliation and healing.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto yesterday attended multi-faith prayers for the victims of the Westgate mall attack.
Hundreds of Kenyans from the Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities were at the service in the capital, Nairobi. Officials say 67 people died after militants from Somalia’s al-Shabaab stormed the mall on September 21.
On Monday, Kenyan MPs called for camps for Somali refugees in the country to close in the wake of the siege. Al-Shabaab, a Somali Islamist group, said the attack was in retaliation for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia. Kenya is host to the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab - home to about half a million people - while it is believed that more than 30,000 Somali refugees live in Nairobi alone.
The prayers were hosted by Kenya’s Inter-Religious Council with clerics from different faiths, who were sitting together on a stage facing the congregation, calling for national unity, reconciliation and healing.
During the service, Bishop Gerry Kibarabara asked the congregation to stand, shake hands and say “peace”. The prayers were broadcasted live on all national television stations, with private broadcaster NTV labelling the transmission “United in Prayer” along with the hash tag #WeAreOne, which some Kenyans have been using on social media in response to the attack.
Children from different religious and ethnic groups read messages of peace to the congregation.
Five militants were killed by security forces during the four-day siege, while nine people are in custody after being arrested in connection with the attacks, the authorities said. On Monday, the Kenyan Red Cross said the number of missing after the Westgate shopping centre attack had dropped to 39 from an initial figure of 61.
Fourteen of the missing have been found alive and seven bodies have been identified, it said. A Red Cross tracing manager told the BBC that some of those who were classed as missing were counted because of “reports from people who could not get through to their relatives on the phone and thought they might have been at the mall”.
About 4,000 Kenyan troops have been sent to Somalia to help pro-government forces end two decades of violence, with clan-based warlords and Islamist militants all battling for control of the country.
Al-Shabaab is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters. Its members are fighting to create an Islamic state in Somalia.
Meanwhile the al-Shebaab Islamists on Monday insisted that no woman joined them in the attack on Westgate, dismissing speculation that British ‘White Widow’ Samantha Lewthwaite took part in the massacre. “We once again openly declare that no woman was involved at Westgate,” al-Shabaab said on Twitter, reiterating it had a policy of “not employing sisters for such missions”.