Shebab militants target northern Kenya in deadly gun attack
NAIROBI – Shebab militants killed at least 14 people in northern Kenya on Tuesday, officials said, the latest in a wave of attacks in the east African nation by the Somali-led Islamists.
The attack occurred just outside the town of Mandera in Kenya's far northeastern region, which borders Ethiopia and war-torn Somalia.
The Islamist group said on Tuesday it was behind the gun attack.
"We are behind the Mandera attack. We killed over 10 Kenyan Christians," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman, said. "This is part of our ongoing operations against Kenya."
The early morning raid comes a little more than two weeks before US President Barack Obama is due to make his first presidential visit to Kenya, where his father was born.
"People were sleeping when the attack happened. They just came and hurled explosives into the houses," said Mandera County Commissioner Alex Ole Nkoyo, confirming 14 people had been killed in the attack.
"These were Al-Shebab from the nature of the attack. They used explosives and guns," he said.
Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinnet also blamed Shebab for the attack. "I can confirm a Shebab attack in Mandera early this morning," he said.
Kenya Red Cross said it had taken 11 wounded to hospital, and had sent a medical aeroplane to evacuate the critically injured to the capital Nairobi.
A regional commissioner, Mohamud Saleh, said the attackers were believed to Shebab members based in Kenya's northeast, which has seen a string of attacks in recent months.
In April, the Al-Qaeda-linked militants massacred 148 people at the region's Garissa University, most of them students.
"We believe the assailants are members of al-Shebab terror group who are operating from sleeper cells in Mandera town," Saleh told reporters in Garissa.
He said up to 150 people were targeted in the attack and praised the security forces for responding quickly.
"Our security officers have done a commendable job by rescuing 136 people from the hands of the bloodthirsty terror gangs," he said, adding any loss of life was "painful".
The target of the attack was a secured settlement that is home to labourers who work in nearby quarries. Many labourers who work in the Muslim-majority border region are Christians from central Kenya.
Under pressure in Somalia, where it has for years been fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government, Shebab is now increasingly targeting Kenya.
The group has stepped up attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In late 2014, 28 passengers were dragged from a bus near Mandera and executed. Days later in the same area, 36 quarry workers were pulled from their tents at night and murdered.
In 2013, four Shebab gunmen killed at least 67 people in an assault on the Westgate mall in the capital Nairobi.
The upsurge in cross-border attacks and emergence of Kenya-based Shebab cells is now Kenya's number-one security headache, as well as being a strategic blow given that Nairobi sent troops into southern Somalia in 2011 in the hope they would protect the long, porous border.