Over 20 people have been killed this month alone as Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Lamu counties, raising security concerns.
The terror group, which originated in Somalia but whose tentacles have spread to other countries in East Africa, appears to have Kenya firmly in its cross-hairs.
On Saturday night, five people were beheaded and houses burnt in a suspected Al-Shabaab attack on Salama and Juhudi villages in Mkunumbi division, Lamu West. Gunmen stormed the villages at around 7.30pm, dragged the victims from their homes, tied their hands and legs with ropes behind their backs and beheaded them.
All the victims of Saturday night’s attack were men, including a Form Three student of Bakanja Secondary School identified as Barack Hussein, 19, who was home for the half-term break.
Pamela Akoth Ogutu, an aunt and guardian to Barack, said a group of over 30 men armed with guns, pangas and knives and wearing military regalia descended on their homestead at about 8pm and ordered them to lie down. Ms Ogutu, her two nephews, a niece and a neighbour were in her house talking when the men, who identified themselves as “Original Al-Shabaab”, arrived.
After ordering them to lie face down, they told them they had come on a mission to execute people from “their invaded lands”.
“They also told us to deliver a message to President William Ruto that they were unhappy with the reopening of the Kenya-Somalia border, which had seen the President’s officers crossing into Somalia to kill their people. They then tied one of my nephews (Barack) by the legs and hands with ropes, shot him in the stomach and slaughtered him,” said Ms Ogutu.
She told Nation.Africa that one of the nephews escaped after seeing his brother killed by the bandits.
Ms Ogutu said after the incident, they were ordered to go back to one of the houses before the men went to the other house, which was being used as a store, and stole some food, chickens and goats before setting it on fire.
“While the men were killing people, others were busy searching houses and stealing items. My Samsung and Infinix phones were taken by the attackers. They also stole my Sh60,000 cash that I had just withdrawn from my M-Pesa on Saturday evening. They also torched the shop, which contained over 10 bags of maize, simsim and beans, before moving to the neighbourhood where they killed four other people,” said Ms Ogutu.
Stephen Mureithi of Salama Christ the King Church lost his cousin and church member, Peter Mureithi, 40, in the attack.
Mr Mureithi said his cousin, a farmer, had been living alone at the homestead because his wife and children had gone to visit relatives about a week ago.
“I was preparing to go to church this morning when I was told that my cousin had passed away. My cousin is a member of my church. I rushed here and saw his body lying in a pool of blood. They tied his legs and hands behind his back with ropes and butchered him,” said Mr Mureithi.
Pastor Peter Muthengi of the Salama Redeemed Gospel Church said his neighbour was also killed during the night raid. He said the gunmen fired into the air before raiding their villages.
“We heard gunshots for several minutes before the attackers descended on homesteads, chased people out of their houses and beheaded men. We fled into hiding, which saved us. We pray that the government will investigate and ensure our safety. There is tension everywhere,” said Mr Muthengi.
Locals interviewed accused security agencies of being slow in responding to Saturday night’s attack.
Joseph Mwangi, an elder in the area, said they had informed the security agencies as soon as they heard the gunshots.
“They only came this morning to collect the bodies. It’s unfortunate. Only the National Police Reservists in our villages responded quickly. They’re the ones who fought and prevented more deaths here,” said Mr Mwangi.
When contacted, Lamu County Commissioner Louis Rono said he was aware of the attack in Salama village but had no further details.
“I heard something happened in Salama overnight. I am on my way to the scene. I will give details when I get there,” Mr Rono said.
The villages of Juhudi and Salama, where five people were killed and five houses torched during the attack, are in the same area where six people were killed and more than 10 houses torched in January last year. The six were killed by suspected Al-Shabaab militants.
Saturday’s attack also comes just a week after two Kenya Defence Forces soldiers were killed and others injured when their vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) suspected to have been planted by Al-Shabaab militants at Mlima Faru along the Witu-Pandanguo road. The two were part of a team on a rescue mission to evacuate General Service Unit officers who had earlier been injured after their vehicle ran over an IED suspected to have been planted by the terror group.
The incident prompted the State to launch a massive operation in Mlima Faru, Witu, Pandanguo, Boni Forest and surrounding areas to hunt down the terrorists.
Last Thursday, residents of Pandanguo claimed that they had been barred from using the 21-kilometre Pandanguo-Witu road, which includes the Mlima Faru section, because of the ongoing operation. Pandanguo village is home to 2,000 people, all from the Boni minority community.
Pandanguo village spokesman Ali Sharuti said the situation had left them without basic necessities, including food.
“Since last Sunday’s attack, in which two KDF soldiers were killed, no one moves in or out of Pandanguo village. We always depend on Witu town to buy household items, clothes and even treatment at the Witu dispensary. All this can’t happen because of the fear of attacks. The government should come out and help us,” said Mr Sharuti.
Residents questioned why the government was taking so long to set up police and KDF camps at the notorious Mlima Faru site, despite repeated Al-Shabaab attacks in the same area.
But Mr Rono dismissed claims that locals have been banned from using the Pandanguo-Witu road. He said security had been tightened in the area and that there were enough security camps in Witu and Pandanguo, which also cover the Mlima Faru area, and urged residents to continue using the road.
“No one has asked these people not to use the road. Maybe they’re just too scared. It’s similar to what’s happening on the Hindi-Boni-Forest-Kiunga road. The road is open, but the locals are staying away. People should be free to use these roads. So there’s nothing to worry about,” said Mr Rono.
From the beginning of June to date, data analysed by the Nation shows that Al-Shabaab attacks have claimed the lives of 27 Kenyans, mostly police officers, and left scores injured. The government believes the terrorists are operating in the country, with intelligence reports indicating that a good number of the group’s fighters are in four sub-counties in Wajir.
On June 21, three passengers were killed and five others injured. Their vehicle was hit by an IED in Mandera County. According to police reports, the public service vehicle was hit on the Wargadud-Takaba road in Mandera South around 3pm. The vehicle was carrying 14 people. One of the dead was a foreigner.
A day before this, two police officers and a local man were killed when their vehicle was hit by an IED in Tarbi, Guba ward, on the Banisa-Rhamu-Mandera road. The vehicle was carrying six police officers escorting a bus from Banisa to Mandera and a local road engineer who had hitched a ride. Police recovered three AK47s and two G3 rifles. The other four officers who had been reported missing were found alive the next day.
That same night, the Quick Response Unit’s officers in Guba Station did not rest as they fought off militants who attacked hours after the police vehicle was hit on the road. The two-hour gunfight ended with the attack.
The next day, political leaders and security officials in Mandera agreed to work with residents to root out terrorism in the area. Mandera County Commander Amos Wariba, who chairs the county security committee, said they suspected the criminals who planted the explosives on a road near the Guba base were the same ones who attacked the security camp that night.
Some 700 kilometres further south, in Masalani, Garissa County, Defence Cabinet Secretary Adan Duale and Internal Security Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo held a public baraza. Mr Duale said KDF and police artillery were now being modernised to end Al-Shabab attacks in the region. The equipment, he said, will include armoured personnel carriers with the ability to detect roadside explosives. He added that all security forces had been mobilised and would go after the enemy.
“Al-Shabaab ... we are coming for you. We will use the Navy, Air Force and special forces to hunt you down both in Kenya and inside Somalia,” he said, adding that Kenya and Somalia have agreed to jointly deal with the terror group once and for all.
“Our government has agreed with President Mohamed Sheikh of Somalia and other partners and allies who have troops in Somalia that together we will finish off Al-Shabaab,” he added.
According to Mr Duale, senior security officials from the North Eastern region should deal with Al-Shabaab. The region has Mr Noordin Haji as the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service, Mr Amin Mohamed as the head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Mr Duale as the Defence CS.
“We cannot have these senior security officials from this region and Al-Shabaab continues to terrorise the local community,” he said.
The CS warned Al-Shabaab sympathisers in the region, saying the government would not spare them in the fight against terrorism.
“We will listen to any communication you have with the enemy. The boda boda riders who supply food to the militants will also be dealt with,” he said, adding that the State has recruited and deployed enough intelligence personnel in the region.
While the State’s moves to upgrade its arsenal, it will also have to deal with internal sabotage. On June 17, for example, a police officer at Olla Police Station in Mandera North was arrested on suspicion of stealing two guns from the armoury. The officer, later identified as an Al-Shabaab sympathiser, was stopped shortly before he handed the weapons to a civilian who was to take them to the militants. After his arrest, he led his colleagues to a bush about 400 metres from the post where he had partially buried the two rifles.
Olla was last attacked in January when a woman was killed and several others injured after Al-Shabab militants attacked a public service vehicle on the Banisa-Mandera road.
Garissa has also experienced terror attacks this month. On June 13, eight security officers were killed when their vehicle was hit by a landmine in Bodhei. The officers were on patrol. On the same day, a bus travelling from Nairobi to Mandera was shot at by gunmen in Tarbaj, Wajir. Three passengers were injured.
In Mandera, a police vehicle transporting officers from Alungu to Elwak, was hit by an IED planted on the road on June 7, injuring the seven officers on board. Four days before, three policemen were killed and five others injured while on patrol on the Wargadud-Elele-Takaba road after their vehicle was hit by an explosive device.