Kenya security forces killed five suspected militants on Friday in the coastal town of Mpeketoni whom they believe were involved in deadly attacks earlier this week. On Sunday and Wednesday, residents of Mpeketoni near the Somali border suffered brutal attacks by gunmen suspected to be part of the al-Quaeda splinter group, al-Shabab. The attacks left dozens of residents dead and wounded and parts of the city on fire. International observers are warning of escalating violence in the region as the bloody attacks leave international aid agencies scrambling to provide aid to victim’s families.
The police action comes as Kenyans, Somali refugees, and international observers grip themselves for further rounds of retaliatory violence. In May, deadly explosions killed 10 people and injured 76 others in Nairobi. In September of last year, militants attacks a shopping mall and killed 67 people. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi is relocating non-essential staff and beefing up its perimeter security. British tourists were evacuated in May.
On Friday, the Kenyan government issued warnings to all resident to stay indoors to watch the World Cup matches. It is believed that many of the deaths on Wednesday’s attack in Mpeketoni occurred in a World Cup match viewing room. On the same day, in an unrelated but similar incident, a bomb exploded in northeastern Nigeria, killing 14 people who were watching the World Cup.
Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s bloody attacks on Mpeketoni but their claims were dismissed by President Uhuru Kenyatta who placed the blame on ethnic tensions in the area. The border between Somalia and Kenya is not well guarded, and ethnic Somalis have moved into Kenya to escape the violence in their own country. In a national address, Kenyatta blamed “local political networks” for the violence now affecting Mpeketoni and hatred of his own ethnic group, the Kikuyus, whom many believe benefit from association with the ruling government. In Kenyatta’s view, the perpetrators are using al-Shabab as a convenient scape-goat to hide their ethnic animosities. Kenya Parliament Opposition leader Moses Wetangula called the President’s statement ridiculous.
Foreign observers and analysts have pointed out that the attacks have been directed mainly against non-muslims and Kenya security forces. Al-Shabab has vowed revenge against the Kenyan government for aiding the Somali government in its battle to suppress the militant group. In 2011, Kenya sent military forces to Somalia to help the UN mission protect Somali civilians from the violence. The police action on Friday that killed five suspected militants captured three AK-47 assault rifles which Kenyan police believe were used in the deadly attacks.
Aid workers are moving to help victims recover from the violence. The Kenya Red Cross Society issued a situation report on Friday saying that it had recovered two additional bodies bringing the death toll of Wednesday’s attack to 60 people. In addition, two refugee camps have been erected where relief supplies and Psychosocial Support Services could be provided to victim’s families. Currently, eight persons are still missing from the deadly attack.
Despite the police action by Kenya security forces, international observers believe the violence will continue to escalate along the Somalia-Kenya border. The death of five suspected militants is certain to increase calls for retaliation.
By Steve Killings