The militants, estimated to number 50, attacked hotels, restaurants and government offices. Terrorism has taken a heavy toll on the coastal economy
The Somalia militant group Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the Sunday night terror attack near a popular tourist resort town at Kenya’s Coast that claimed nearly 50 people. The attack is the latest blow to East Africa’s largest economy, which has struggled with terrorism over the last year and had recently taken some strong measures to help stabilise a reeling tourism industry.
In a statement the Shabaab said the attacks were its revenge for Muslim clerics killed in Mombasa in recent months. At least four radical clerics have been in Mombasa in the last year by unknown gunmen, and there has so far been no independent evidence that state functionaries were behind the assassinations
The attack on Mpeketoni brought the number of people killed in Kenya in the last year to nearly 160, and further raised the spectre of transnational terrorism that Africa is grappling with this year.
Heavily armed gunmen stormed Mpeketoni, 30km southwest of the tourist haven of Lamu late Sunday, and hared around firing at people and allegedly shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Greatest’). The number of injured is not yet known, but reports say “hundreds of people” are missing. In addition to the nearly 160 dead, the number of people injured over the last 12 months is close to 450. When a clearer picture emerges, the Mpeketoni attacks could increase that number sharply.
The militants, estimated to number 50, attacked hotels, restaurants and government offices in the overnight and apparently well-planned attack.
Kenya police chief David Kimaiyo said a security sweep was still underway Monday, but fingered Al-Qaeda-allied Somali militants.
“We suspect the involvement of Al-Shabaab in this attack. We are appealing for calm as we do our best the search for the attackers. It is a very unfortunate incident.”
The group was yet to claim responsibility for the attack.
Al-Shabaab have carried out a string of attacks in Kenya soil after the country’s troops in 2011 crossed the border into southern Somalia to fight the extremist group, which it accused of threatening its national security.
The most high-profile was an assault on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall frequented by Westerners in September, in which at least 67 people were killed and 175 wounded.
However, the largest attack in Kenya was well before the country went to Somalia – in August 1998 when a massive bomb brought levelled the US embassy in downtown Nairobi, killing 213 people and injuring more than 4,000. A simultaneous attack also took place on the US embassy in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. Al Qaeda, to which Al Shabaab is affiliated, claimed responsibility.
In the weekend Mpeketoni attack, cafes and bars that were full of World Cup watchers, were targets. The group frowns on such activities, which it sees as Western ploys to distract Muslims from their religion.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram has also targeted football fans, including at a recent match where a bomb killed at least 40 people. In July 2010 Somali Islamist insurgents killed at least 76 people watching the World Cup final in Kampala, Uganda.
Last month one of the Shabaab’s most senior commanders, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, released radio broadcasts urging fighters to strike Kenya.
Hundreds of British tourists were also evacuated last month from beach resorts port city following new warnings of terror attacks from Britain’s Foreign Office.
Britain this week released warnings to its citizens in several East African nations—including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, who all have troops in Somalia—speaking of the threat of attacks at public screenings of the World Cup. It also closed its Mombasa honorary consulate and referred its citizens to the main Nairobi embassy.
The United States has said it would reduce the number of its staff in Kenya following the ongoing security threat, while France and Australia among others, have updated their travel advice for their citizens.
Kenya, which depends heavily on tourism, has termed the actions “economic sabotage”, and rolled out a raft of measures aimed at enticing tourists such as the Chinese, and stimulating domestic tourism.
The attack on the remote town echoes tactics by Nigeria’s Boko Haram of targeting far flung areas that stretches the state in terms of security responses.
The Mpeketoni attack is the latest in a string of attacks that have hit the Kenyan nation hard, sparking a controversial internal security operation that has seen hundreds of illegals mainly of Somali origin deported. Four Muslim clerics—both radicals and moderates— have also been killed in unsolved shootings over the last two years.
It comes a month after explosions in the busy Gikomba market of Nairobi killed at least ten people. Two weeks earlier Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were set off in two commuter buses in the Kenyan capital, killing at least three people and injuring 62 others.
Seven other separate attacks in March and April killed at least 22 people. Three other attacks in December claimed the lives of five and wounded at least 40, while last June two attacks in Eastleigh and Likoni left at least 15 people injured.
Al-Shabaab, which has seen a six-nation 22,000-strong African Union force arrayed against it in Somalia, has upped its cross-border attacks in defiance of territorial gains made by the multinational troops against it.
Last month the terror group claimed responsibility for an attack on a crowded restaurant in Djibouti, an Amisom-troop contributing nation. It was the first such attack in the country.
The attack on the restaurant frequented by Westerners left at least one person dead and several wounded. Al-Shabaab said it was also in retaliation for Djibouti hosting an American military base, its biggest in Africa. France also has a base in Somalia.
The attacks in the US on September 11 2001 are recognised as having brought to the fore the phenomenon of international terrorism, but Africa had by then been victims, with the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya leaving at least 224 dead.
Until 2001, Africa had been the continent least affected by international terrorism, with a 2003 US State Department report showing that only six per cent of terrorist attacks between 1990 and 2004 took place on African soil.
That has since dramatically changed, as Islamist-fuelled waves of terrorism take root on the continent and as rising prosperity leaves millions behind, creating a growing pool of dissatisfaction.