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Al-Shabab claims responsibility for Kenyan attack

  • Article by: Robyn Dixon Los Angeles Times
  • June 16, 2014 - 11:53 PM

– Al-Shabab on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack in Kenya the day before that killed at least 48 people, marking the first time the militant group from Somalia had launched an assault of this scale on a town in the neighboring country.

Witnesses reported that the attackers in Mpeketoni spoke Somali and yelled, “God is great.” Kenyan authorities had said they suspected that the Al-Qaida-linked militants were to blame. The group released a statement saying its fighters burned a police station, bank, hotels and other buildings in revenge for the killings of several clerics in Mombasa, Kenya, and the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia.

In a chilling warning designed to inflict maximum damage on Kenya’s tourist industry, the group declared the country a war zone and warned foreigners to stay away.

The statement, reported in Kenya’s media, said the militia had control of Mpeketoni for 10 hours before withdrawing and “leaving behind a trail of destruction and scores dead.”

“To the tourists visiting Kenya, we say this: Kenya is now officially a war zone and, as such, any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril,” the statement said.

It warned of more attacks in the future: “Do not ever dream of living peacefully in your lands while your forces kill the innocent in our lands,” the statement said.

Dozens of gunmen hijacked two buses and swept into the town as residents watched the World Cup soccer competition in a video hall. Gunmen invaded hotels and homes, shooting the one police officer present and killing civilians on sight.

About 50 gunmen were reportedly involved. The attack, 60 miles from the border — a porous, poorly guarded line in the scrub — underscored how poorly secured most of Kenya is, following a three-year terror campaign by Al-Shabab since Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011.

That such a large group of gunmen penetrated so deep into Kenya undetected to carry out a military-style attack on the town suggests a growing sophistication. Past attacks have involved bombings, grenades and assaults by smaller groups of gunmen, such as last year’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

Cedric Barnes, Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group, said, “You have seen an increased tempo in the last 12 months, but, nevertheless, they have never done something quite as direct in terms of a group of armed people attacking a specific town so far from the Somali border and shooting civilians.”

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