What you need to know:
- Eight bodies of officers who were hunting down a group that ambushed police and burnt a vehicle transporting examination papers in Kapedo area in Turkana recovered as Lenku and Kimaiyo lead search and rescue operation in volatile region
Eight officers were killed and another 12 went missing and are feared dead after they were ambushed by bandits in Turkana County at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Two civilians were also killed, police said in a statement.
It is feared that the bandits shot and killed all the 20 officers and reservists, who were ambushed between Kapedo and Lokori areas as they tried to recover a burnt GSU vehicle that was used in a botched operation last week.
After attacks in the last few weeks, President Uhuru Kenyatta warned that those involved would face the full force of the law.
A statement signed by Administration Police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi read in part: “Reinforcement has been sent in the area under the leadership of the Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo, who is accompanied by Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government Joseph Ole Lenku.”
This is one of the worst killings of law enforcers in a single incident after the November 2012 massacre of 42 police officers in Baragoi.
On Saturday, police scrambled helicopters to track the attackers, who were believed to still be hiding in the area.
Police said they had had recovered eight bodies while 12 officers were still missing and presumed dead. Sources say some of the dead civilians were staff of a motor dealer who had accompanied the police.
Those who spoke to Mr Kimaiyo on Saturday evening said he was numbed by the audacious attack on police officers in an area that has been under siege by suspected Pokot bandits for the last few weeks.
The team on a rescue mission had Regular and Administration Police officers and Kenya Police Reservists. An officer based at a GSU camp in Kapedo told the Sunday Nation that the officers had been deployed to flush out the bandits who attacked police and burnt a vehicle ferrying examination papers two weeks ago.
“They went missing since Friday and were reportedly killed in the wee hours of yesterday morning,” the officer said.
Mr Mwinyi confirmed that a military helicopter with several security personnel had been sent to Kapedo to monitor the situation, adding that it would help in tracking the raiders, as well as search for the missing officers.
On October 25, three GSU officers and two civilians were killed in an ambush. Officers in two lorries were dispatched to pacify the area and recover the vehicle after the previous attack on their colleagues. But they were also ambushed.
“It happened when they were towing the vehicle,” said an officer on the ground.
Baringo County Commissioner Peter Okwanyo earlier said some security officers went missing after Saturday’s attack.
“We will comment on that when we get the full details,” he initially said before police confirmed the deaths.
Sources indicated that a contingent of Kenya Defence Forces has already been deployed to the border area.
Governor Benjamin Cheboi of neighbouring Baringo County condemned the killings and called on the government to beef up security in the volatile area.
“If police officers with firearms can lose their lives in such numbers, it seems this is no longer cattle rustling; it’s taking another dimension. We send our condolences to the bereaved families,” said Mr Cheboi.
Kapedo High School Principal Daniel Namununa, who spoke to the Sunday Nation on the phone, feared for candidates sitting their Form Four and Standard Eight examinations.
“The situation is too bad. People are fleeing after word went round that the attackers are hiding in the bushes,” he said.
The attack came barely a week after the government rolled out a massive disarmament operation to seize illegal firearms from herders in Turkana and Baringo counties.
A peace crusader in Kapedo, Joyce Narumbe, told the Sunday Nation that they were informed that the officers were killed on Saturday.
“You know the place is very remote and there is no cell phone network there. We wait for people to get to an area where there is network coverage to give us information,” she said.
But a source revealed that even with the news of the missing officers, the area had over 100 armed bandits roaming freely.
Tension is still building up along the border, with villages such as Kapedo and Lomelo remaining inaccessible by road due to highway attacks.
Turkana Deputy Governor Peter Lokoel and MPs Joyce Emanikor (Woman Representative), James Lomenen (Turkana South) and John Lodepe condemned the attacks.
“Villages along the border have, for years, suffered from reckless attacks by armed bandits who have also made accessing water points, health centres and trading centres difficult,” said Ms Emanikor.
Mr Lomenen urged the government to seize all illegal guns along the border.
Mr Kimaiyo, who toured the area last week, said stern action would be taken against leaders who incited people. He said that police would be justified to use force, including shooting the armed bandits.
“We will not sit and watch as a few criminal elements terrorise innocent people,” said Mr Kimaiyo.
He appealed to the locals to cooperate with the government and officers on the ground in restoring security in the area.
Meanwhile, two people were shot and seriously injured by gunmen in Garissa Town yesterday night. Regional CID boss Musa Yego confirmed the incident.
Reports by Peter Warutumo, Wycliffe Kipsang, Stella Cherono, Flora Koech, Sammy Lutta and Abdimalik Hajir