Islamic Militancy

At least 15 killed in latest attack claimed by al-Shabab in Kenya

Deaths come a day after 49 lost their lives in assault on coastal town, while president blames violence not on militants, but domestic rivals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 June, 2014, 9:22pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 12:44pm

At least 15 people have been killed in the latest attack claimed by Somali Islamist militants al-Shabab in Kenya - even as the country's president tried to shift the blame for twin attacks on to his domestic rivals.

Militants killed residents and torched houses in a second night of attacks on Kenya's coast, a day after an assault on a town left 49 dead. Armed men went door to door hours before dawn in Poromoko village, ordered people outside and made them recite the Islamic creed.

Kenya's president dismissed claims of responsibility by the militants, which Nairobi usually fingers for such assaults.

Al-Shabab has said its gunmen carried out the attacks on the town of Mpeketoni on Sunday night and on a nearby village early on Tuesday morning.

In comments that could further stoke political tensions in a country where allegiances generally run along ethnic lines, President Uhuru Kenyatta instead pointed the finger at rivals he described as "hate-mongers", though he did not name anybody. "The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against the Kenyan community," Kenyatta told the nation in an address, referring to Lamu county where the two attacks took place.

"This, therefore, was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous crime. This also played into the opportunist network of other criminal gangs," he said.

Blaming domestic rivals could ease pressure on Kenyatta's government, which has faced strong criticism about its handling of security and the threat from Somali-linked militants.

Analysts said politicising the issue of security by either side risked undermining efforts to tackle shortcomings.

"We live at a time when our people are vulnerable to reckless leaders and hate-mongers who manipulate them to create hate, intolerance and fanaticism, which makes them easy prey to radicalisation and crime," Kenyatta said in his address.

Though Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu, did not mention him, his comments appeared directed at his opponent and main presidential challenger in last year's election, Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo, who returned to Kenya in May after a long period abroad.

Odinga has been rallying supporters and has urged dialogue with the government. He has condemned the latest assaults.

Kenya has blamed al-Shabab for a spate of gun and bomb attacks in recent months. Kenya also holds al-Shabab responsible for an attack on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in September last year in which 67 people were killed.

Evidence indicates local political networks were involved

Al-Shabab has said its attacks are intended to punish Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to confront its Islamist fighters.

Witnesses in Mpeketoni said they heard the gunmen speak Somali, although that does not automatically link them to al-Shabab as Kenya has a large minority with Somali origins who also speak the language.

Violence between different ethnic groups is not uncommon in Kenya. Tribes of Somali origin and other ethnic groups have in the past fought over land and other issues, though that has mostly occurred in Kenya's lawless northern border area.

In a statement condemning the Mpeketoni attack on Monday, Odinga said: "This is not time for blame games. … We must as leaders and as a nation rally together to respond to this serious national tragedy."

The series of recent assaults has hammered the vital tourist industry, particularly on the coast. Some hotels in the palm-fringed coastal region say they face closure, while others which offer safaris up-country say bookings are down 30 per cent - a worrying sign as the peak tourist season approaches.