• At least four churches— a Seventh-day Adventist, two Catholic, one Worldwide Faith Tabernacle had been affected.
• Nothing was stolen in all the instances.
It is Sunday morning at Otamba Pentecostal Assemblies Church in Kiogoro, Nyaribari Chache, Kisii county.
Scores of the church’s faithful are gathering in the woods to worship.
Meanwhile, church officials are huddled in a corner speaking in hushed tones.
Today it was their turn: Goons broke into their church at night and set the altar ablaze. The church's records were completely destroyed in the 3am incident.
As journalists arrive, the pastor invokes incantations, his voice growing hoarse as he curses the arsonists.
This is the fifth church in less than a week to be torched. The faithful and clergy term the arsons 'strange fires'.
At least four churches— a Seventh-day Adventist, two Catholic, one Worldwide Faith Tabernacle had been affected. Nothing was stolen in all the instances.
Officials of Otamba PAG also said nothing was stolen. Only the altar and the liturgical paraphernalia were destroyed.
Nobody seems to know the motive, not even security agents. And there have been no arrests.
County police commander Jebel Munene said they will crack the puzzle soon.
"I promise the arrests will be swift and prosecution even swifter once we get the suspects," he told the Star.
Some faithful accuse errant youth in the villages, saying they may have run amok.
"They seem to be in no hurry because they know people are asleep at those odd hours," Eric Ratemo said.
At Otamba shopping centre, villagers fear the arsonists may turn to their homes once done with the churches.
Men leave shopping centres for home early and families go to bed earlier than before.
It is not easy to guess whose house or church would be next. At least four homes in the Otamba area have been targeted in the last two weeks. In churches, the fires had come with fury.
Ratemo said he received a call at 3am about some “huge fire inside the church”.
Immediately, he alerted the local chief who mobilised an emergency response team that rushed to put it out. The help came in the nick of time before the fire spread to the rafters.
"Even so everything used in the liturgy had already been destroyed," he said.
Brian Nyamweya, another faithful described the incident as an indication of satanism.
"How else can we look at it if it was not caused by some possessed hooligans?” he said.
Hellen Orangi, the general secretary of the church said the string of the night arsons on worship places in the area was worrying.
"It is rather strange that that they are targeting altars. This is not only causing jitters among the faithful but also among villagers, some of whom have already been affected," she said.
Kisii University chaplain Lawrence Nyaanga who was among the first responders to the Otamba Catholic Church last Saturday said the burning of church altars was a first.
"I have never seen where people intrude into churches at night with such bravado and cause the gory scenes I’m seeing today," he told the Star.
George Mogire, a faithful at Otamba SDA church said the raiders just burn churches and walk off after accomplishing their work.
"They seem to have one goal, either to create fear among people or they are possessed by some demon which is driving them into these satanic acts," he told the Star.
There were similar fires at Menyinkwa Tomato market where stalls were also set ablaze.
Market officials said the fire incident also bore the hallmarks of an arson like those at the churches.
"It appears that what had begun from churches is now moving into markets. Let police conduct extensive investigations into these; we want to see action before it is too late," said Stella Makemba, a trader.
John Aroni, another trader, spoke of simmering tension from some extremists who want to stop sellers from conducting business on Sundays.
"They had been unhappy that the small market which began during this Covid-19 period was slowly becoming a major Sunday market. They had silently been agitating that we hold markets here on Monday and Fridays. We suspect they have a hand in this," he said.
He said the burnings at church altars could be orchestrated by some extremists too.
"We may be sitting on a ticking time bomb if truly some fanatics are doing this," he said.
The residents want the police to conduct investigations and bring the culprits to book.
"We would want security agencies to arrest at least one suspect who can give us a peep into what they are up to. This would be a good starting point to ending this madness," he said.
Former Kisii Town deputy mayor Patrick Siro said there is more than meets the eye in the arson incidents.
"I think if we sit pretty without confronting this as early as today, the country may burn. Let the police and chiefs begin serious inquiries into this, let's see arrests and end this madness," he told the Star.
Pastor Kennedy Mogire also called for concerted efforts in addressing the matter.
He said an increase in drug abuse by some youth should form part of the probe.
Edited by Kiilu Damaris