By Tom Odula,
SOMALI militants wielding automatic weapons attacked a small Kenyan coastal town, assaulting the police station, setting two hotels on fire, and spraying bullets into the street. At least 34 people were killed, officials said Monday.
Kenya’s top police commander, David Kimaiyo, also said that the gunmen attacked a bank. The assault came late Sunday night as town residents were watching World Cup matches on TV. Authorities blamed al-Shabab, Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked terror group.
The attack occurred in the town of Mpeketoni, which is about 20 kilometers southwest of the tourist center of Lamu. Any tourism in Mpeketoni is mostly local, with few foreigners visiting the region. The town is about 100 kilometers from the Somali border.
Kenya has experienced a wave of gunfire and explosive attacks in recent months. The U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Canada have all recently upgraded their terror threat warnings for the country. U.S. Marines behind sandbag bunkers are now stationed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
The Red Cross, which said it had personnel on the ground, put the death toll at 34. Kimaiyo had earlier said it was 27 but that it could rise.
The Interior Ministry said that at about 8 p.m. Sunday two minivans entered the town. Militants disembarked and began shooting. Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Center said military surveillance planes were launched shortly afterward.
The nearby town of Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the country’s oldest continually inhabited town. The region saw a spate of kidnappings of foreign tourists in 2011 that Kenya said was part of its motivation for attacking Somalia. Since those attacks and subsequent terror warnings tourism has dropped off sharply around Lamu.
Al-Shabab has vowed to carry out terror attacks to avenge the Kenyan military presence in Somali. At least 67 people were killed in September when four al-Shabab gunmen attacked an upscale mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Kenya sent it troops to Somalia in October 2011.