Kenyan churches torched

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Two wooden Christian churches have been burnt to the ground in the predominantly Muslim northeastern part of Kenya, police said.

Witnesses said the Muslim call to worship "God is great," and the words "We condemn America" were carved on the charred remains of the Methodist church and the Universal Church of God in arid Isiolo district, torched late on Tuesday night.

Muslim leaders condemned the attack, saying its perpetrators were trying to fan religious tension stemming from the September 11 attacks on the United States and the likely American retaliation.

"Somebody is trying to... tarnish the name of Islam," said Sheikh Hussein Ibrahim of the Isiolo mosque.

But local police played down the significance of the arson attack, denying it had religious overtones.

"Those churches have stood here for the past five years. This was a normal arson attack," Isiolo police chief James Shile said, adding no arrests had been made yet.

Relations between Kenyan Christians and Muslims are normally good, but last year a Catholic Church and a Christian centre were stoned and set ablaze in the capital Nairobi following clashes over land ownership.

Muslims make up approximately six percent of Kenya's 28 million population.

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