The gunmen went door to door in the Kenyan costal 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-Shabab, a Somali al-Qaida-linked group, claimed responsibility for the hours-long assault on Mpeketoni in which 48 people were killed. The attack began Sunday night as residents watched a sports game and lasted until early Monday, with little resistance from Kenya’s security forces.
The attack highlights the growing incidents of Islamic extremist violence in a country that was once viewed as the bastion of stability in East Africa, drawing tourists from around the world for safaris and vacations. The U.S. ambassador made Kenya’s entire coastal region off-limits for embassy employees after the attack.
The merciless life-or-death religious assessment recalled al-Shabab’s attack on an upscale mall in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, last September in which at least 67 people were killed, some of them after not being able to answer questions about Islam.
The Interior Ministry said that at about 8 p.m. Sunday, two minivans entered the town. Terrorists disembarked and began shooting. At the Breeze View Hotel, the gunmen pulled the men aside and killed them, saying it was what Kenyan troops are doing to Somali men inside Somalia, a police commander said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share such details of the attack.
The several dozen gunmen also went door to door.
“They came to our house at around 8 p.m. and asked us in Swahili whether we were Muslims. My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him,” said Anne Gathigi.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the attackers fled into the nearby wilds, known as the Boni Forest after a “fierce exchange of fire” with security forces. He said 20 vehicles had been set on fire.
Mpeketoni is about 20 miles southwest of the tourist center of Lamu.
Any tourism in Mpeketoni is mostly local, with few foreigners visiting the area. The town is 60 miles from the Somali border and 360 miles from Nairobi.
Kenya has experienced a wave of gunfire and bomb and grenade attacks in recent months. The U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Canada have all recently upgraded their terror threat warnings for the country.
U.S. Marines behind sandbag bunkers have for some days been stationed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.