Somali Islamist rebels stormed a remote police camp in north-east Kenya, killing seven people and kidnapping three, the militants and Kenyan officials said on Thursday.
Scores of rebel fighters threw grenades and other explosives as they raided the police camp on Wednesday evening in Gerille, a town 7km from the porous frontier with Somalia, Regional Commissioner Wenslas Ongayo said.
Police spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said in a statement there were about 100 suspected al-Shabaab attackers and two officials and a member of the public had been abducted.
Kenya has tried to beef up security along the border since it sent troops into the anarchic Horn of Africa country in October to crush the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents.
Al-Shabaab said it carried out the raid to avenge the “aggressive Kenyan invasion”.
“Taken by surprise and unable to respond effectively to the attack, seven Kenyan administration police and government officials were immediately killed while others were taken prisoner,” the militants said in an emailed statement.
Kenyan security forces were scouring the border area amid fears the hostages had been hauled across the border. Residents in the Somali town of Haggar said they had seen two Kenyan policemen and another man in the hands of al-Shabaab fighters.
Kiraithe said the gunmen had seized firearms, ammunition and a vehicle from the police post. He said six people including two administration police officers, had been killed.
A local councillor and an education official said a primary school teacher had also been killed in the crossfire.
Photo blunder, rights abuses
Wednesday night’s attack highlights the difficulties Kenya faces in securing the frontier, days after Britain warned Islamist militants were in the final stages of preparing an attack on sites in Kenya frequented by expatriates and tourists.
Kenyan forces initially moved swiftly on rebel strongholds but their advance on targets such as the port city of Kismayu, the nerve-centre of al-Shabaab’s operations in southern Somalia, has since stalled, first hampered by rains and now by an apparent lack of strategy.
Kenya’s military spokesperson Emmanuel Chirchir also handed the militants a propaganda coup after tweeting four photos he said were of a Kenyan al-Shabaab member being stoned to death on Tuesday by the rebels in Kismayu over a difference of opinion.
The photos turned out to be of a Somali man accused of adultery being executed by Hizbul Islam, another Islamist group that has since merged with al-Shabaab. The photos were taken in 2009 near Mogadishu by a major international news agency.
“I take responsibility for the photographs,” Chirchir told Reuters, adding al-Shabaab had still executed a Kenyan in Kismayu on Tuesday and two more executions were expected.
Al-Shabaab denied on Twitter it had executed anyone in Kismayu. “A simple Google search would have save them such an embarrassment,” the rebels tweeted.
Allegations of violence
In another blow to the Kenyan campaign, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday Kenyan security forces have raped, beaten and arbitrarily detained Somali refugees and Kenyan citizens in north-east Kenya.
The rights group said there had been a series of crackdowns since Kenya launched its incursion in October in a region that has also suffered a string of roadside bomb and grenade attacks by suspected Somali gunmen.
“Kenya’s security forces are rightly concerned about attacks by suspected al-Shabaab members, and should be doing more, not less, to identify the attackers,” said Daniel Bakele, director of Africa Human Rights Watch.
“But beating, raping, and humiliating innocent Kenyan citizens and Somali refugees accomplishes nothing,” he said.
Army spokesperson Chirchir told Reuters he would not comment until authorities investigate the accusations.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it had suspended food distribution to 1.1 million people in central and south Somalia after Islamist militants blocked deliveries in parts of the famine-hit country. — Reuters