NAIROBI – At least 34 people have been killed after unidentified armed men stormed the coastal city of Mpeketoni, setting hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices on fire and spraying bullets in streets.
"There were around 50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the Shabaab flag," Benson Maisori, deputy commissioner for the district, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Monday, June 16.
Several buildings including hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices were razed to the ground.
"More bodies have been found and what we have now is 34," a local police official said, signaling the toll could rise further because "the search for more bodies is still under way".
The attacks began around 8 pm on Sunday night as town residents were watching World Cup matches on TV.
The attack met little resistance from the country's security forces, and lasted until early Monday morning.
Though initial reports mentioned lesser numbers, Kenya's top police commander, David Kimaiyo, said the death toll was 48, The Canadian Press reported.
The attack is not the first to hit Kenya recently.
After last year’s Westgate mall siege, three bombings hit Nairobi last April leaving six killed and dozens injured.
The attack followed a series of recent attacks that have rocked different parts of Kenya, raising questions about the country's vulnerability to terrorism.
Earlier in March, a gun attack on a church service in Mombasa left six killed and dozens wounded.
The church attack was vehemently condemned by leading Kenya Muslim scholars who stressed that attempts to spoil religious harmony would be foiled.
Kenyan army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir described how the gunmen had stormed the town, overwhelming local police officers and firing from vehicles, "shooting people around in town".
Chirchir blamed al-Shabaab, Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked militant group, saying the attackers were "likely to be al Shabaab" although there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the Islamists themselves.
"They were shouting in Somali and shouting 'Allahu Akbar'," he added, meaning "God is great", in Arabic.
The town of Mpeketoni, a trading centre on the main coastal road, lies on the mainland some 30 kilometres (20 miles) southwest of Lamu island, a popular tourist destination whose ancient architecture is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Kenya's security forces consider Al Shabaab a security threat, blaming the group for numerous attacks in Kenya including bomb blasts and kidnappings of foreigners living in Kenya.
Recently, Muslim leaders organized a conference in Nairobi to explore strategies of countering ideas of groups that carry out attacks on civilians in the name of Jihad such as Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab.
They concluded that one of the factors driving Kenyan youths into such groups is the actions by security forces such as arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings of Muslims and attack on mosques, all in the name of “fighting terrorism."
The conference, organized by the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, concluded that efforts to tackle vices like terrorism should be done within the law to avoid creating more problems.
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