Al-Shabab sus­pected in Kenya be­head­ings

Nine men were killed Fri­day in coastal Lamu County, of­fi­cials said

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY RAEL OMBUOR for­eign@wash­

nairobi — Is­lamist mil­i­tants are sus­pected in the be­head­ing of nine men in Lamu County, on Kenya’s south­east coast. The at­tack oc­curred in Jima vil­lage, James Ole Se­rian, leader of a task force of gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity agencies com­bat­ing al-Shabab, told the Associated Press.

The at­tack is the lat­est in a se­ries of fa­tal as­saults by al-Shabab on Kenyan soil in re­tal­i­a­tion for Kenya’s in­volve­ment in mil­i­tary ac­tion against the mil­i­tant group in So­ma­lia. Kenya is one of five African na­tions that have sent troops to help sup­port the frag­ile gov­ern­ment in So­ma­lia.

Fri­day night’s at­tack oc­curred just days af­ter a sim­i­lar at­tack at a po­lice sta­tion in a nearby vil­lage of Pandaguo on Wed­nes­day in which three po­lice of­fi­cers were killed.

John­son Kit­sao, a wit­ness to Fri­day night’s at­tack, said about 16 armed mili­tia at­tacked two vil­lages, Jima and Poromoko. “They were tar­get­ing only male res­i­dents,” Kit­sao said. “They went from house to house, drag­ging out men, they man­aged to take with them 10 men.” One of the men man­aged to es­cape, but the other nine were be­headed mer­ci­lessly, Kit­sao said.

Kit­sao said that it ap­peared to him that they were specif­i­cally look­ing for non-Mus­lim men.

An­other eye­wit­ness, John­son Ndokolane, said the at­tack­ers were, “ruth­less, us­ing knives to slaugh­ter the men they had held cap­tive.”

Al-Shabab has used be­head­ings as a way to ter­ror­ize vil­lagers in So­ma­lia, but they have been rare in Kenya. The group, how­ever, have in­creas­ingly used bomb at­tacks in Kenya, killing at least 46 in Lamu and Man­dera coun­ties, ac­cord­ing to the Associated Press.

He said the num­ber of ca­su­al­ties could have been greater, but af­ter the at­tack on the po­lice sta­tion in Pandaguo, a lot of non­res­i­dents moved away.

“They felt very in­se­cure,” Ndokolane said. “The ones that re­mained were just the un­lucky ones. They thought they were safe be­cause of the heavy se­cu­rity pres­ence af­ter the at­tack.”

Lamu County is home to Boni For­est, where the al-Shabab mili­ti­a­men are thought to hide out.

Agents from the Kenya De­fence Forces have re­sponded to pre­vi­ous ter­ror­ist at­tacks by pur­su­ing the at­tack­ers and push­ing them into the for­est. Lo­cals, how­ever, say such op­er­a­tions are not suc­cess­ful, be­cause the mil­i­tants are only pur­sued so far into the for­est.

“If the gov­ern­ment is afraid of deal­ing with this mili­tia, then they should arm us ap­pro­pri­ately so that we can deal with them,” said Kit­sao. “We do not feel safe at all.”

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