'My 30 minutes of terror with al-Shabaab militants'

One of the houses that was burned by suspected Al Shabaab militants in Salama Block 17 village in Lamu County on Wednesday, July 12.

Photo credit: Kalume Kazungu I Nation Media Group

The strange sounds outside Mary Kahindi's (not her real name) house on Wednesday night first sounded like a faint clap.

Then it grew louder and louder, and in a moment, a man's voice ordered her family out of their house in Lamu's Widho village.

Peering through a crack, she saw an unknown number of heavily armed men.

It could only mean one thing. Al-Shabaab — the Islamic militant group based in neighbouring Somalia, and which has been carrying out attacks in Lamu County, killing innocent villagers and security personnel.

Sensing danger, the woman told her husband and their five older children to flee through the back door.

It was around 2.30am and the orders were becoming increasingly violent as the militants banged on the door.
She grabbed her nine-month-old baby and two other toddlers, and opened the door.

She patiently came out as ordered by the men, who later introduced themselves as members of the 'original al-Shabaab' and explained that they were on a mission to execute people who killed them in Somalia.

The Kenyan military is among regional forces that form the African Union Mission in Somalia, a peacekeeping force in the war-torn country. 

In the 10 years she has lived in Widho, Ms Kahindi never thought she would come face to face with the ruthless terrorists, and describes her 30-minute ordeal as terrifying and confusing.

She was sweating profusely as she was interrogated by two tall men whose faces were covered and who wore clothes and boots that resembled those of police and military personnel.

As the interrogation continued, dozens of other heavily armed men stood guard in the compound.

There were also those who entered house after house, ransacking them and taking away household items, including food.

"When I came out of the house, I was standing in front of two men armed with guns, pangas and knives. I was holding my baby on my chest. The other two small children were standing behind me, terrified, in the dark of the night. They couldn't run for their lives like their father and siblings because they are too young," said Ms Kahindi.

The men asked her for directions to Juhudi Primary School, where they said they knew there was an IDP camp.

They also asked her if there were any churches nearby.

"After about 30 minutes, they ordered me and the children to sit somewhere and watch what they were doing. They went from house to house, taking foodstuff — cooking oil, flour and rice," said Ms Kahindi. 

The terrorists then set fire to all the houses in the compound.

"Before they left, they said they had decided to spare my life and that of my young children, but warned me that the Kenyan security forces should stop killing 'them' in Somalia, otherwise they will continue to raid our villages, destroy property and slit our men's throats like chickens. And then they disappeared into the forest," said Ms Kahindi.

During the pre-dawn attack on Wednesday, the armed militants also raided the neighbouring village of Salama Block 17, where they set fire to a farm caretaker, identified as Lucas Mwang'ombe, in his house.

They also torched five houses, slaughtered goats and left with the meat.

The terrorists also proceeded to the Juhudi Primary School, where people displaced by the recent spate of attacks are camping. The terrorists forced their way into the camp but were repulsed by National Police Reservists (NPR) who were guarding it.

One reservist was shot in the shoulder during the attack.

An attempt by the terrorists to throw grenades into the camp was unsuccessful as the grenades missed the target and hit trees inside the camp.

Since Wednesday's attack, security agencies, including police from various units and the Kenya Defence Forces have been deployed to the villages as they hunt for the terrorists.

In January 2022, Widho village was attacked by al-Shabaab men who hacked to death six people and burnt down more than 10 houses.

And on June 24, this year, gunmen believed to be al-Shabaab militants raided the neighbouring villages of Juhudi and Salama, beheading five men and destroying six houses.

This forced residents to flee and take refuge at Juhudi Primary School, fearing further attacks and killings in their villages.