The president of Kenya has insisted that political agitators, not Islamist extremists, were responsible for two attacks on the coast in successive days that killed at least 58 people.
Uhuru Kenyatta spoke amid rising anger among local residents over the failure of security forces to protect them. He contradicted a claim by al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked group based in neighbouring Somalia, that it had carried out the deadly raids on Mpeketoni, Poromoko and other small settlements.
On Monday, al-Shabab warned foreign tourists that Kenya was now “officially a war zone”. Yet in a televised address, Kenyatta blamed “hatemongers” and “local political networks” for the killings close to the tourist island of Lamu and denied that al-Shabab was involved.
The president said: “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community with the intention of profiling them and evicting them for political reasons.
“This therefore was not an al-Shabaab attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of a heinous crime. This also played into the opportunist network of other criminal gangs.”
‘Better intelligence, better capacity’
Kenyatta did not identify who was responsible or which community was being profiled. He said he had suspended some police officers on the ground, claiming they had not acted on intelligence they had obtained of the attack.
Al-Shabab maintained its claim of responsibility after the speech. One of its officials said: “It was our commandos who were taking care of things over the last two days in the Lamu area, and they will continue to do so.”
Senator Moses Wetangula, an opposition politician, dismissed Kenyatta’s claim as “a joke”.
He told the BBC: “We Kenyans in the leadership, instead of calling in our friends who have better technology, better intelligence, better capacity to even use drones to hit these guys, we are saying it is not terrorism, it is political.”
The second attack came when heavily armed, masked men reportedly went from door to door in the settlement of Poromoko in the early hours of Tuesday morning, asking men to recite the Islamic creed, or shahada, and killing them if they could not.
A least nine people are believed to have died. Speaking from her hospital bed in Lamu where she was recovering from bullet wounds in her legs, Najma Wairimu (36) said a group of hooded gunmen attacked her village of Mapenya, near Poromoko, at around 11pm.
“They came in a group of almost 30 men and broke into our houses while shouting in Somali. My house was set on fire while we were still inside. We ran out and I was shot in the chaos. My aunt called and said her village was attacked and my uncle is dead,” she added.
Kenya’s interior ministry said it was trying to verify reports that 12 women were abducted during the night’s violence. The attack came 24 hours after an overnight siege in Mpeketoni, about 30 miles north-east of Poromoko.
Gunmen prowled the town for up to eight hours, pulling people from their homes, hotels and venues screening World Cup soccer matches. Witnesses said a large number were tested in their knowledge of Islamic scripture and the Somali language, and killed if they failed. Almost all of the 49 dead were men.
Kenyatta’s assertion is likely to cause confusion. Matt Bryden, director of the Nairobi-based thinktank Sahan Research, said: “Although al-Shabab has a history of hyperbole and exaggeration, it would be highly unusual for them to take responsibility in an opportunistic fashion. No other group currently operating in Kenya is known to have the capability for this kind of attack.” – Guardian News and Media 2014