At least 48 people have been killed after unidentified armed men attacked Mpeketoni, a coastal town in Kenya’s Lamu county, police and witnesses said on Monday.
The gunmen opened fire from two minibuses and set two hotels ablaze, officials said, adding that most of the victims were shot in the head. The assault came late Sunday night as town residents were watching World Cup matches on TV.
The attackers also broke into three banks: Kenya Commercial Bank, Equity and Co-operative, but it is not yet clear whether they stole any money.
The Kenya Army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the gunmen entered the western town of Mpeketoni, a trading center on the main coastal road, and started “shooting people around in town,” according to AFP.
The “assailants (are) likely to be Al-Shabab,” Chirchir said, referring to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked armed group.
“There were around 50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the Shabab flag,” Maisori said, speaking from the town.
“Attackers hijacked a van from Witu town which they used for the attacks. They raided Mpeketoni police station first and opened fire,” Hamaton Mwaliko, Mpeketoni area administration police chief, told Reuters.
Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Center also said that the attack has been linked to Al-Shabab, which has been blamed for previous violence in Kenya.
The center said military surveillance planes were launched after the late Sunday night attack
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in late 2011, after Al-Shabab fighters carried out a series of raids on Kenyan soil.
Kenya has seen a drop in tourist arrivals in recent months following a string of attacks blamed on the group or its sympathizers. Mpeketoni is about 30 miles southwest of the tourist center of Lamu, where the ancient architecture is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lamu is Kenya’s is the oldest continually inhabited town.
In May explosions in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa led Britain, the United States, France and Australia to issue warnings about travel to the east African country, and at least 400 tourists cut short their holidays and left hotels along the Indian Ocean coast.
Kenya called the alerts “unfriendly” and said the warnings would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the assaults.
Al-Shabab has fought a seven-year campaign to impose its interpretation of Islamic law inside Somalia, and has said it wants to take revenge for Kenya’s deployment of troops in the Horn of Africa nation.
The group has claimed responsibility for many other attacks, including the coordinated shooting rampage on Sept. 21, in an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya that left at least 39 people dead. It was also behind a 2010 attack in Kampala, Uganda, during which 74 people were killed while watching a World Cup match.
Al Jazeera and wire services