Around 8 p.m. on June 15, approximately 20 armed Shabaab fighters entered the village of Mpeketoni, just southwest of the Kenyan tourist destination island of Lamu. Opening fire on townspeople, the fighters killed at least 48 people.
During the hours-long rampage, the gunmen set fire to a bank, hotels, and a police station while chanting “Allahu Akbar.” In the attack, the militants reportedly took men who were watching the World Cup match in the Breeze View Hotel and shot and killed them in front of the women. Local police made a distress call at 9 p.m. local time, but additional officers did not respond until 1 a.m.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera on June 16, Shabaab said: “The Mpeketoni raid was carried out in response to Kenyan military’s continued invasion and occupation of our Muslim lands and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Somalia.”
The group warned tourists to stay away from the country as the Kenyan government was “fighting a losing war” against them. Ominously, Shabaab stated: “The prospect of peace and stability in Kenya will be but a distant mirage …. Brace yourself for the depredations of war and that which you have with your hands sown.”
The following night, Shabaab fighters killed at least eight people in Poromoko, near Mpeketoni. Afterward, Shabaab military spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters: “We raided villages around Mpeketoni again last night …. Our operations will continue.” Villagers in Poromoko stated that 12 women were also taken by Shabaab in the attack.
The massacre in Mpeketoni is the deadliest attack launched by Shabaab since it targeted the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last September, killing at least 67 people.
Apparently ignoring Shabaab’s claim of responsibility, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in a televised statement to the nation yesterday blamed the attacks on “local political networks.” Kenyatta, who has been president since April 2013, commented: “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons. This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack.”
According to Kenyatta, the attacks could have been prevented if known intelligence had been acted on. Citing actions taken, the president said “all concerned officers have been suspended and will be charged immediately in a court of law.” However, one report in the Kenyan press noted that according to the Cabinet Secretary for the Interior and Co-ordination of the National Government, the officers involved were transferred.
Mpeketoni is located in a region that experienced ethnic clashes last year. In the 1970s, then-President Jomo Kenyatta, Uhruru’s father, moved roughly 30,000 ethnic Kikuyu Christians from Central Kenya to the area, dispossessing parts of the local communities.
Kenyatta’s government has been criticized for its responses to Shabaab’s violent activity across Kenya. The East African nation sent forces into southern Somalia in 2011 to combat Shabaab, and Kenyan forces remain there to this day.