Kenyan president blames domestic foes for attacks

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NAIROBI, Kenya — As Kenyan officials reported a second lethal attack on a coastal village, Kenya’s president said Tuesday that the violence, which has left at least 57 people dead, was the work of “local political networks” and was not carried out by al-Shabab, a Muslim extremist group that has claimed responsibility.

“The attack in Lamu was well-planned, -orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, addressing the nation and referring to the county where the attack occurred, which includes the Lamu Island tourist resort. He said the killings involved an eviction attempt, but he did not elaborate or provide evidence.

“This, therefore, was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack,” he said. “Evidence indicates local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks. This also played into the opportunist network of other criminal gangs.”

David Kimayo, Kenya’s police inspector general, said the latest attack occurred Monday night in Majembeni, which is near Mpeketoni, the location of the first attack. “Nine people lost their lives,” he said. “One suspect has been arrested.” The Kenyan media and other government officials reported that 15 people had been killed.

Some analysts questioned whether Kenyatta’s effort to shift the blame was part of a ploy to deflect attention from the government’s failure to protect civilians from the spate of violence. Others saw the president’s words as a reaction to mounting criticism by the main opposition party, which has forcefully rebuked the government for its apparent weakness in the face of attacks that many believe were orchestrated by al-Shabab, which is based in Somalia.

Kwamchesti Makokha, a columnist for The Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, was skeptical of the president’s statement. “One has to give the president the benefit of the doubt, but there are huge inconsistencies in that narrative,” he said in a phone interview. “It would be very worrying if political issues would be allowed to spill into security matters. It does not make sense. He has more explaining to do.”

The attack on Majembeni came one night after the raid on Mpeketoni, near Lamu Island, which left at least 48 people dead. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for that attack in a statement that warned tourists to visit “at their own peril.” The group also claimed responsibility for the second attack, Reuters said. It quoted the group’s spokesman for military operations, Sheik Abdiasis Abu Musab, as saying it had killed as many as 20 people, mostly police officers.

The violence began Sunday evening, as residents of Mpeketoni were watching the World Cup on television, officials said. After emerging from two vans, the militants targeted a police station and two hotels. The attackers took aside some of the men watching the matches at the Breeze View Hotel, and then shot and killed them in front of the women.

The gunmen went from house to house, seeking to determine whether the men they found were Muslim and spoke Somali, The Associated Press reported, citing witnesses. The men who did not provide satisfactory answers were killed, the AP said.

The Kenyan military went into Somalia in 2011 as part of a drive to push back al-Shabab, but the group has since expanded its terrorist campaign inside Kenya. This week’s attacks are likely to fuel an already-growing debate about what to do with several thousand Kenyan troops deployed in Somalia. Kenya’s border with Somalia has proved vulnerable to infiltration by al-Shabab agents, even as Western officials have been encouraging Kenya to bolster security there. Nevertheless, militants continue to move back and forth.

In September, four al-Shabab gunmen targeted an upscale mall in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, killing at least 67 people. In May, twin explosions hit a market area in central Nairobi, killing 10 people and injuring 76 others.

Kenyan authorities have sought to expand security, and have questioned thousands of immigrants, refugees and members of Kenya’s large Somali community in an effort to combat the militant threat. The violence has continued, however, and the government’s tactics have been criticized by rights groups.

Mr. Kenyatta said the police officers who had been unable to prevent this week’s attacks had been suspended and would be immediately charged in court. “We are all hurting,” he said, calling for the country to unite. “Many of us are angry.”

Somalia - East Africa - Africa - Al-Shabaab - Kenya government - Kenya - Nairobi - Uhuru Kenyatta


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