NAIROBI: At least 49 people were killed when suspected Shebab militants from Somalia stormed into a Kenyan coastal town and launched a major assault on a police station, hotels and government offices, officials said Monday.
Around 50 heavily-armed gunmen drove into the town of Mpeketoni, near the coastal island and popular tourist resort of Lamu, late on Sunday, officials said.
Witnesses added they first attacked a police station, before starting to randomly shoot at civilians, some of whom had been watching the World Cup in local bars and hotels.
District deputy commissioner Benson Maisori said several buildings in the town — which is around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border with Somalia — were burned down including hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices.
“There were around 50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the Shebab flag. They were shouting in Somali and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is Greatest’),” he said, adding they attacked a police station but officers fought them off.
Resident Anne Gathigi, 38, a mother of five, said the attackers killed her husband.
“They forced their way into our house, found us in the bedroom. They picked up my husband and took him to the sitting room where they demanded money from him, as soon as he gave them some cash, they shot him at close range,” she told AFP.
“Then they turned to me and asked me if I knew Al-Shebab. They told me since ‘our government has refused to pull our soldiers from Somalia, they had come to leave us ‘widows and orphans’.”
Local resident and witness John Waweru, 28, said he lost two of his brothers to the attackers.
“I heard them shouting in Somali as they fired around. I lost two of my brothers, and I escaped. I ran and locked up myself in a house,” he told AFP.
The fierce gun battles continued until after midnight, but by dawn on Monday the town of Mpeketoni was reported calm with security forces saying they were in pursuit of the attackers and authorities recovering the dead.
Police spokeswoman Zipporah Mboroki confirmed that 49 people had died, including at least one police officer.
“Our officers are still combing the area,” Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo told AFP, adding “we suspect the involvement of Al-Shebab in this attack.”
“It is an atrocity we would not want to see repeated anywhere else,” he said.