The gunmen went door to door in the Kenyan coastal town, demanding to know if the men inside were Muslim and if they spoke Somali. If the extremists did not like the answers, they opened fire, witnesses said on Monday.
Al-Shabaab, a Somali al Qaeda-linked group, claimed responsibility for the hours-long assault on Mpeketoni in which 50 people were killed. The attack began Sunday night as residents watched World Cup matches on TV and lasted until early Monday, with little resistance from Kenya’s security forces
“Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril,” it said, after staging the biggest assault since its gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September, leaving at least 70 dead.
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Mpeketoni, where shells of buildings smouldered and pools of blood congealed on the streets, is not normally a stopover for foreign visitors on Kenya’s popular coast, but the attack is likely to hurt further an already struggling tourist industry.
Western nations have in recent weeks tightened their warnings about travel to Kenya, which has been hit by a spate of recent gun attacks and bombings in Nairobi and around the main port of Mombasa, though none have been as serious as Sunday’s. “The attackers were so many and were all armed with guns. They entered the video hall where we were watching a World Cup match and shot indiscriminately at us,” Meshack Kimani told Reuters, adding about 10 people were killed there.
Other witnesses said those gathering for the screenings fled just before the attackers arrived but were found in hiding places and then shot. Hotels, a bank and a police station were also attacked, leaving a trail of dead across the town. “The wives who came to identify the bodies said the attackers forced them and their children to watch as they killed their husbands,” said Peter Kamotho, a tailor volunteering at a makeshift morgue.
Muiruri Kinyanjui, the Kenya Red Cross regional director for the coastal area, said the death toll was at least 50 but could rise because many residents were still unaccounted for while others had suffered serious injuries. Many people fled to nearby forests for safety.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku told a news conference before travelling to the area that the security forces would find the perpetrators, fending off questions about public anger at the failure of the government to do more to secure Kenya.