Military destroys four forest camps used by attackers

Security forces in Maleli village in Bujara Ranch, Lamu County, on June 24, 2014. They were conducting a search after five people were killed. PHOTO | WILLIAM OERI

What you need to know:

  • Sources familiar with the operation said security forces believe they are dealing with a large band of radicalised youth.
  • Their way of operating, especially raids on farms and shops and a dispensary, have suggested that they are stocking-piling food and medicines.

Soldiers have found and destroyed four large camps used by the heavily armed raiders who have been terrorising villagers in Lamu, killing more than 80 people in the past one month.

The camps were found in the expansive Boni Forest, which extends from Kenya to the border with Somalia.

A joint task force tracking down the raiders comprises units from the Kenya Defence Forces, the General Service Unit, the Rapid Deployment Unit of the Administration Police and regular police. Lamu County Commissioner Njenga Miiri has been coordinating the security operation.

Security forces were sent to Lamu after a legal notice was published in the official Kenya Gazette on Tuesday. The notice, signed by Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, quoted sections of the Constitution that authorise KDF to support police operations internally.

Ms Omamo’s notice read in part: “Notice is given that on July 7, 2014, the Kenya Defence Forces deployed in support of the National Police Service in response to the security emergency situation in Lamu County.”

Sources familiar with the operation said security forces believe they are dealing with a large band of radicalised youth, who were trained by Al-Shabaab and had been fighting in Somalia, but had returned to Kenya after the terrorist group lost ground to African Union troops that have been trying to restore peace in the Horn of Africa nation.

STOCKPILING

The attackers are reported to be familiar with the terrain inside Boni Forest and are also well armed, all of which has complicated the crackdown.

Their way of operating, especially raids on farms and shops and a dispensary, have suggested that they were stockpiling food and medicines.

During the first raid on Mpeketoni in the middle of last month, the raiders were said to have left with packets of rice, beans and other dry food, including sugar. There were no reports on whether the military had killed any of the raiders. (READ: How raiders prayed after night attack)

Other sources said the first group of police officers who responded to the initial raid in which more than 60 people were killed were armed only with light weapons, which would not have matched the raiders’ sophisticated heavy-calibre guns.

This made it difficult for the officers to stop the raiders. However, the involvement of the military had brought in heavy weaponry and enhanced the mobility of the security forces.

The sources denied that fighter jets were involved in the operation, saying residents who had reported seeing jets probably saw those that were heading to Somalia, where Kenya is engaged in a military campaign.

PREACHING PEACE

The military was last deployed internally to combat terrorists who attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last September, and earlier to flush out the Sabaot Land Defence Force, who were brutalising residents in Mt Elgon in western Kenya.

Away from the enhanced crackdown, Lamu leaders have organised a series of meetings to preach peace among residents and restore calm in the county following the attacks.

County Commissioner Njenga Miiri said two meetings had so far been held.

“We have held meetings that brought together opinion and interfaith leaders. We had one in Lamu and another in Mpeketoni as part of peace and healing process,” Mr Miiri said.

Recently, both local and national elected leaders promised to work together to foster security and cohesion among the residents.

Mr Miiri and Lamu Governor Issa Timamy told a press conference after the meeting that they would do everything to ensure a return to peace.

“We are doing everything to ensure they are flushed out of their hideouts. The operation will be carried out until normalcy returns,” Mr Miiri said.

Lamu Senator Mohammed Abu Chiaba, Woman Representative Shakila Abdallah and Lamu East MP Athman Shariff also attended the meeting.

OUT ON BOND

Mr Timamy, who is out on bond after being charged in relation to the Lamu raid, said leaders were expecting a parliamentary committee on national cohesion and integration. (READ: Leaders hold peace meeting after Lamu attacks)

“This meeting is the first of its kind since we had the recent issue in our county. We don’t want people to cause fear among our people because we are happy with the security measures put in place,” he said.

Mr Timamy also appeared in court on Wednesday for a mention of his case.

The prosecution asked for two more months to continue with investigations.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Alexander Muteti said investigations were now centred on international crimes and the Proceeds of Crime Act.

“We urge the court to indulge us for a period of two months given the number of incidents and suspects,” Mr Muteti told the court.

The prosecutor said that the displacement of potential witnesses had made it difficult for the investigations officer to take their statements.

However, defence lawyer Ahmednasir Abdillahi opposed the application, terming the case as political.

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