The village of Mpeketoni in Lamu County was on Monday in shock after gunmen struck on Sunday night, killing 48 people in one of the worst massacres of recent months.
The attack was reminiscent of those by Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram, because of the extreme brutality and widespread destruction of property.
Victims were shot in the head with such cold-blooded precision that there were not many survivors. Some had their throats cut. The attackers also burnt buildings housing banks, hotels and eateries and the Deputy County Commissioner’s office during the six-hour orgy of killing in the normally quiet settlement area.
Their attack was spread over a three-kilometre radius covering Mpeketoni and Kibaoni trading centres.
On Monday, contingents of regular and Administration Police with the support of the paramilitary General Service Unit, were dispatched to comb forests in the area in the hunt for the killers.
A delegation of security chiefs including Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku, Principal Secretary Mutea Iringo and Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo toured the area late in the afternoon.
Earlier, the National Security Advisory Committee met in the Office of the President before members went to State House, Nairobi, to brief President Uhuru Kenyatta.
At a news conference outside Harambee House, Mr Lenku said 48 people died while more than 20 vehicles were burnt and property destroyed.
“Security forces were mobilised to respond to the attack and after fierce exchange of fire, the bandits fled to Boni forest,” he said.
Al-Shabaab later claimed responsibility for the attack, although the government appeared to suggest that it was the product of local political incitement.
A statement from Al-Shabaab said the attack was revenge for the “Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars.”
Earlier, Mr Lenku had said: “Recently I issued a caution to the effect there is a red line beyond which nobody should cross. That red line has now been crossed.”
He also warned that those engaging in incitement would face the full force of the law.
President Kenyatta, while consoling the bereaved families, asked Mr Lenku to take personal charge of the operation in Lamu.
He also postponed a trip to Moyale, which was to start on Tuesday to focus on the tragedy and pledged swift action against all those responsible for the attack.
The Mpeketoni raid was similar to a previous one in August 2012 when gunmen killed 52 people in Tana River County, which neighbours Lamu.
The violence then pitted members of the Pokomo and Orma communities.
The Sunday night attack in Mpeketoni involved more than 20 raiders in black bandanas who took control of the coastal town — about 200 kilometres from Malindi – from 8pm for more than six hours.
LIVING AMONG US
Two buildings hosting KCB and Equity Bank were burnt, while offices at the deputy county commissioner’s quarters were looted and bombed.
Breeze View and Taweel hotels and several clubs were also burnt down. More than 50 vehicles and dozens of motor cycles were set on fire.
Lamu County Governor Issa Timamy and Woman Representative Shakila Abdalla said he would liaise with the national government to improve security.
He appealed to residents to help security officials find the attackers.
“It is clear that these people are living among us and I ask each and every person in Lamu to be responsible for their security” he said.
Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho said: “We must rise up and stand together, share information to protect Kenyans.”
When the Nation arrived at Kibaoni shopping centre about six kilometres from Mpeketoni, residents were too shocked to speak. Pools of blood could be seen on the streets, where witnesses said people had been shot.
A resident in Kibaoni said the raiders seemed to be very well-organised.
“I was awakened by gunshots. On coming out, I saw about eight men dressed in casual wear with bandanas on their heads, on top of a storeyed building. They were armed with AK 47 rifles and pointed them at the streets. They shot indiscriminately,” he said.
According to him, a man who appeared to be their leader, issued orders. “They frog-matched one man to the centre of the road and as they shouted in celebration, one of them slit his throat. This is something I have never seen.”
KILLERS TOOK OVER MATATUS
Multiple interviews with residents confirmed that the attackers had hijacked two 14-seater matatus at Mpeketoni and used them to drive around while shooting people indiscriminately between Mpeketoni and Kibaoni, a distance of six kilometres.
After the mayhem, they drove towards Malindi and burnt the vehicles at Majembeni before disappearing into the forest.
Many shops were burnt in what residents said was a night of terror never witnessed in the area before.