GARISSA, Kenya - After al-Shabaab gunmen massacred nearly 150 people at a Kenyan university on Thursday, singling out Christians for point-blank executions, churches in Kenya are turning to armed guards to protect their Easter Sunday congregations.
Four masked gunmen from the Somali Islamist group went on a shooting rampage, hunting down students to kill and take hostage during a day-long siege at a university in Garissa, some 200km (120 miles) from the Somali border.
Kenya's Christians, who make up 83 percent of the population of 44 million, have been horrified by survivors' tales of how the militants sought out Christian students to kill while sparing some Muslims.
Militants on Saturday threatened to stage more attacks and turn Kenyan cities "red with blood". Police said they are providing extra security at shopping malls and public buildings in the capital Nairobi and in the eastern coastal region.
Kenyan priests, who have been targeted by Islamists in the past, say they fear Christian churches may bear the brunt of possible fresh attacks on Easter Sunday.
"We are very concerned about the security of our churches and worshippers, especially this Easter period, and also because it is clear that these attackers are targeting Christians," Willybard Lagho, a Mombasa-based catholic priest and chairman of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CICC), told Reuters.
He said Christian churches in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa will be hiring armed policemen and private security guards for mass on Easter Sunday.
In Nairobi's Holy Family Basilica cathedral, nestled between the City Hall and Kenya's parliament, two uniformed police officers toting AK-47 rifles manned the entrance gate. One of the policemen said more plain clothes officers were inside.
At the same entrance, three private security guards frisked churchgoers with hand-held metal detectors, while a fourth guard used a mirror to check for explosives underneath cars.
"Everyone is anxious and you never know what will happen next, but we believe the biggest protector is God and we are praying," said Samuel Wanje, 27, a youth member at the church.
In Garissa, the scene of Thursday's massacre and where masked gunmen in 2012 killed more than a dozen people in simultaneous gun and grenade raids on two churches, six armed soldiers were shielding the town's main Christian church and about 100 worshippers ahead of Sunday mass.