Suspected al-Shabaab gunmen killed at least 48 people in an attack on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni, shooting indiscriminately and setting ablaze at least seven buildings, government and emergency workers said.
The assailants drove into the town, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of the port city of Mombasa, at about 8 p.m. yesterday in two minibuses, the state-runNational Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter account. Two hotels were among the buildings set alight, it said, while police spokeswoman Zipporah Mboroki said an Equity Bank Ltd. branch and a police administration building were also set on fire.
The attacks will “further dampen Kenya’s security and economic outlook, especially since the perpetrators specifically targeted hotels and restaurants in an area frequented by tourists,” Ahmed Salim, senior associate at Teneo Intelligence in Dubai, said in an e-mailed note.
Kenya has faced a spate of attacks by suspected Islamist militants since it deployed troops in neighboring Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Shabaab insurgents who are trying to overthrow the government. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Sept. 21 attack on the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in which at least 67 civilians and members of security forces died.
The attacks have curbed the number of visitors to Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, including coastal resorts popular with foreign tourists. Arrivals to the country fell to 1.4 million last year from 1.7 million in 2012. The tourism industry is the nation’s second-biggest source of foreign currency, generating $1.1 billion in 2013.
Last month, the U.K.’s Foreign Office advised against travel to Mombasa and surrounding areas because of threats to security. Other countries including the U.S. and Australia have issued similar advisories. On June 13, the U.K. High Commission said it closed its consular office in Mombasa.
Military spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said the attackers are “likely” to be al-Shabaab militants, emboldened by the advance by Islamist militants in Iraq. Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq have captured large chunks of territory north of the capital, Baghdad, seizing towns including Mosul, the country’s second-biggest city.
Since the Westgate attack, at least 64 people have been killed and another 263 injured in “terrorist attacks,” according to Maplecroft, the Bath, U.K.-based risk consultancy.
Al-Shabaab hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attack on Mpeketoni, which is about 120 kilometers from the Somali border and about 40 kilometers from the coast. Clashes between rival ethnic communities in Kenya’s coastal region, partly over land and other resources, left hundreds of people dead last year, according to a Kenyan panel established to investigate the fighting.
In the 1970s, the government of former President Jomo Kenyatta settled about 30,000 ethnic Kikuyu from central Kenya in Mpeketoni, dispossessing some local communities of land, according to a paper commissioned by the state-run Commission on Revenue Allocation. When the so-called Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme in the area was designed, indigenous and Muslim villages in the area were discriminated against and not included in the program, according to the paper.