JOHANNESBURG – Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, on Sunday gave police and security officials 48 hours to hunt down extremists who killed 29 people in separate attacks on two Kenyan towns near the eastern coast.
The Somali militant group Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attacks on the civilians in Hindi and on a police station in nearby Gamba.
The attacks followed assaults last month on the town of Mpeketoni and other villages, in which dozens died. Al Shabab also claimed it carried out those attacks, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed the claim and blamed local political networks. The attacks near the tourist resort of Lamu has sent Kenya’s tourist industry into sharp decline. The attacks also have deepened religious and ethnic mistrust in a nation still deeply divided after ethnic violence around the disputed 2007 elections.
Several dozen gunmen attacked the Gamba police station late Saturday, shooting a police officer, five non-Muslim prisoners and three occupants of a truck, before freeing suspects arrested for last month’s attacks, police Deputy Inspector General Grace Kaindi said Sunday.
At about the same time, gunmen attacked Hindi, shooting men and boys indiscriminately and burning a church, houses and government buildings.
Kaindi said there had been a warning there would be an attack on the coast but there had been no intelligence about its location. She said Saturday’s attacks were carried out not by Al Shabab, but local separatist group Muslim Republican Council, campaigning for independence for Kenya’s coastal region, angered by government programs in decades past to resettle people from other regions.
“For now we believe the attackers were MRC and it revolves around local issues including politics and land,” Kaindi told reporters.
An MRC leader, Randu Nzai Ruwa, in comments to Reuters, denied the group was responsible.
A blackboard from a school and left by attackers near a crossroads said the assaults were retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia, where it is part of an African Union force fighting Al Shabab.