Militants struck in coastal town of Mpeketoni while cafes and bars were packed with people watching the World CupJune 16, 2014 (The Guardian) — Suspected Islamist militants have killed at least 48 people near a popular tourist resort in Kenya, officials said on Monday, the bloodiest attack in the country since the Westgate mall siege in Nairobi.
Among the dead were men who had been watching a football World Cup match at a hotel in the coastal town of Mpeketoni, close to the island of Lamu. Gunmen pulled them aside and ordered women to watch as they killed them, a police commander told the Associated Press. The assailants reportedly told the women that this is what Kenyan troops are doing to Somali men in neighbouring Somalia.
The Islamist group al-Shabaab has previously vowed to carry out terror attacks to avenge Kenya’s military presence in Somalia. At least 67 people were killed last September when four al-Shabaab gunmen attacked the Westgate mall in the capital.
On Sunday evening around 50 heavily armed gunmen drove into Mpeketoni, meeting little immediate resistance from security forces. Witnesses told the BBC that the attackers had hijacked a van and used it to attack various locations across the town. They said the gunmen, whose faces were covered, threw explosives into the local police station before entering and stealing weapons. The attackers went on to spray the streets with bullets, shooting civilians at random.
Benson Maisori, district deputy commissioner, said several buildings in the town, around 60 miles from the border with Somalia, were burned down including hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices.
“There were around 50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the Shabaab flag,” he told AFP. “They were shouting in Somali and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is Greatest].”
Mpeketoni resident John Waweru, 28, said two of his brothers died in the raid. “The attackers came in around 9pm,” he told AFP. “I heard them shouting in Somali as they fired around. I lost two of my brothers, and I escaped. I ran and locked myself up in a house.”
Fierce gun battles raged until after midnight, but by dawn on Monday Mpeketoni was reportedly calm, with security forces saying they were in pursuit of the attackers and authorities recovering the dead.
Major Emmanuel Chirchir, a Kenyan army spokesman, described how the gunmen had stormed the town, overwhelming local police officers and firing from vehicles, “shooting people around in town”. Chirchir said the attackers were likely to be al-Shabaab, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the group itself.
Police and the Kenyan Red Cross put the death toll at 48. Residents in villages surrounding the town also reporting that the gunmen attacked settlements as they pulled out after fighting in Mpeketoni.
Mohammed Hassan, a resident of Kibaoni, a small settlement three miles away, said: “There are six bodies here, a man and a child in their house, four lying on the road.”
Military surveillance planes were launched soon after the attack began. Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo told AFP: “Our officers are still combing the area. It is an atrocity we would not want to see repeated anywhere else.
“We suspect the involvement of al-Shabaab in this attack. We are appealing for calm as we do our best in the search for the attackers. It is a very unfortunate incident.”
Kenyan troops crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to fight al-Shabaab, later joining the now 22,000-strong African Union force battling the militants, who have declared loyalty to al-Qaida.
Since then a series of reprisal terrorist attacks have damaged Kenya’s crucial tourist industry. Hundreds of British holidaymakers were evacuated last month from beach resorts near the Kenyan port city of Mombasa following new warnings from the Foreign Office.
Mpeketoni, a trading centre on the main coastal road, lies on the mainland 20 miles south-west of Lamu island, a tourist favourite whose ancient architecture is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility last month for killing two Kenyan soldiers in the same district as Sunday’s attack, although further north and closer to the lawless border zone with Somalia. One of al-Shabaab’s most senior commanders, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, also recently released radio broadcasts urging fighters to strike Kenya.
Source: The Guardian