By DAN BILEFSKY
Citing the Red Cross, Reuters said that gunmen had intensified their campaign of terror by targeting the Poromoko area, near Mpeketoni, on the coast, continuing a series of assaults on civilians and Kenyans that have shaken the country.
The Shabab, a Somali extremist group, claimed responsibility, Reuters said. It quoted the group’s spokesman for military operations, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, who told the news agency that it had raided villages near Mpeketoni on Monday night and had killed as many as 20 people, a majority of whom were members of the police. “Our operations in Kenya will continue,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The Kenya Red Cross wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that there were “unconfirmed reports of an additional night attack” and that it was on the ground assessing the situation.
The violence began Sunday evening as residents of Mpeketoni, a town near the tourist resort of Lamu Island, were watching the World Cup on television, officials said. After emerging from two vans, the militants targeted a police station and two hotels. The attackers took aside some of the men watching the matches at the Breeze View Hotel, and then shot and killed them in front of the women.
The gunmen went from house to house, seeking to determine whether the men they found were Muslim and spoke Somali, The Associated Press reported, citing witnesses. The men who did not provide satisfactory answers were killed, The A.P. reported.
The Kenyan military went into Somalia in 2011 as part of a drive to push back the Shabab, but the group has since expanded its terrorist campaign inside Kenya. The attack Monday is likely to heighten an already growing debate about what to do with several thousand Kenyan troops deployed in Somalia.
Kenya’s border with Somalia has proven vulnerable to infiltration by Shabab agents, even as Western officials have been encouraging the Kenyan security services to bolster security there. Nevertheless, militants continue to move back and forth, with often lethal consequences.
On its Twitter account, the Shabab on Monday claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack “as a retaliation for Muslim clerics killed in Mombasa,” a port city on the Indian Ocean.
In September, four gunmen from the group targeted an upscale mall in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, killing at least 67 people. In May, twin explosions hit a market area in central Nairobi, killing 10 people and injuring 76 others.
The Kenyan authorities have sought to expand security, and have questioned thousands of immigrants, refugees and members of Kenya’s large Somali community in an effort to combat the militant threat. The violence has continued, however, and the government’s tactics have been criticized by rights groups.
Western embassies in Kenya are now considering the withdrawal of personnel, and many Western diplomats and Kenyans fear that the Kenyan security services are too corrupt and disorganized to stop the Shabab. The recent assassinations of several Islamist clerics, who many Kenyans believe were killed by secret government hit squads, and government roundups of ethnic Somalis have also heightened mistrust and anger among Kenya’s sizable Muslim population. Many Kenyans fear the battle against the Shabab will be long and difficult, and already it has dented the economy, with tourism down significantly this year. (NYT)