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Military jets hunt down attackers in Lamu forests

Police comb through the fields in Mpeketoni, Lamu

Police comb through the fields in Mpeketoni, Lamu

Kenya Air Force jets overflew two forests in Lamu where the gunmen behind the recent killings are believed to be hiding and witnesses reported hearing two loud bangs, raising the possibility that there could have been targeted attacks against the suspects.

In interviews with the Nation, residents of Pandanguo and Jima areas, some 30 kilometres North of Witu trading centre, claimed the jets dropped explosives inside Gorji and Belasange forests.
“The jets overflew the two forests and we immediately heard huge explosions,” said a village elder, Mr Said Toto Jarajara.

A senior security official in Lamu County confirmed the raids but a KDF information operations officer, Colonel Willy Wesonga, could not either confirm or deny the reports.
“We are in an operation and the person you could talk to would be the one on the ground with our troops,” he said.

The Nation team visited Jima area and found soldiers who had parked several vehicles there. Villagers said they had seen over 100 soldiers headed for the two forests.
Despite the military campaign, families were still leaving the area yesterday heading towards Witu after an attack on Saturday night.

The attackers, who villagers say claimed to be members of Al-Shabaab, raided the village and left after harvesting green maize from a farm there. The farm’s owner, Mr Mohammed Ali Gelogelo, said the raiders arrived shortly after 9 pm and ransacked his house before descending on the farm.

Hiding behind a tree

“I was hiding behind a tree deep in the farm and I could see them walking around. They were heavily armed young men. I watched them as they harvested,” he said.

Mr Jarajara, who said he came face with the attackers, among them a tall man who appeared to be of European descent, said the raiders identified themselves as members of Al-Shabaab.

“They asked me whether I was a Muslim. When I responded in the affirmative, two of them started talking to me in Kiswahili and then translated (the conversation) into Arabic to the tall white man. They told me that they were Al-Shabaab members and they would return once more.”

He claimed that the attackers were of different nationalities including Somalis and Kenyans.

Mr Gelogelo Chole, 53, said they had decided to move their families out although they said they would remain behind.

“Come sunset and we pack our beddings to go to spend nights in the forest. It is safer than being caught unawares by armed men,” he said.

Mrs Amina Athman, 20, a mother of two was among dozens of women and children who moved into forests and Witu town.

“My husband has remained at home to look after our farm but due to fear of the gunmen, he and other men in the village also sleep in forests,” she said.

The Saturday night raid came two days after another on Thursday night. In the latest attack, the raiders scared away villagers, broke into several houses and ransacked them for valuable.
According to Abubakar Shabi, a resident at Pandanguo, the raiders struck at around 11pm.
They fired in the air after which many of the villagers escaped.

“When we heard the gunshots, everyone ran to the bushes where we hid till morning,” said Mr Shabi.

The raiders then invaded Jima Farm where they harvested more than two acres of green maize.

Among those who had their houses broken into was a KWS officer.

Lamu County Commissioner Miiri Njenga said security officers were investigating the attack.

“It is surprising. Totally perplexing. But their days are numbered. We are closing in on them,” he said.

Mr Njenga also confirmed that police were holding a truck driver and his loader who had reported the hijacking of their vehicle which was later found in a farm without its cargo of maize and sugar. He said the crew’s story did not did add up and they are likely to be charged in court today.

-Nation

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