Suspected al-Shabaab Attacks on Kenyan Coastal Towns Kill 48

Suspected al-Shabaab gunmen killed at least 48 people in attacks on two Kenyan coastal towns, shooting indiscriminately and setting ablaze at least seven buildings, government and emergency workers said.

About 50 assailants yesterday attacked Mpeketoni and nearby Kibaoni, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) northeast of the port city of Mombasa, police spokeswoman Zipporah Mboroki said in a phone interview. They shot indiscriminately while burning buildings including two hotels, an Equity Bank Ltd. branch, shops and houses, she said.

Agence France-Presse reported al-Shabaab issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack and warning foreign tourists not to visit the country because it is a “war zone.” The claim was also reported by two Somali websites previously used by the al-Qaeda-linked militia to make pronouncements.

Kenya has faced a spate of attacks since it deployed troops in neighboring Somalia in October 2011 to fight al-Shabaab, which is trying to overthrow the government and declare an Islamic state. The insurgents claimed responsibility for the Sept. 21 attack on the Westgate Mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in which at least 67 people died.

The raids have curbed the number of visitors to Kenya, with arrivals to the country falling to 1.4 million last year from 1.7 million in 2012. The tourism industry is the nation’s second-biggest source of foreign currency, generating $1.1 billion in 2013. The shilling fell 0.1 percent to 88 per dollar today, the weakest level since December 2011.

Travel Advisories

Yesterday’s attacks will “further dampen Kenya’s security and economic outlook, especially since the perpetrators specifically targeted hotels and restaurants in an area frequented by tourists,” Ahmed Salim, senior associate at Teneo Intelligence in Dubai, said in an e-mailed note.

Last month, the U.K.’s Foreign Office advised against travel to Mombasa and surrounding areas because of threats to security. Other countries including the U.S. and Australia have issued similar advisories. On June 13, the U.K. High Commission said it closed its consular office in Mombasa.

Since the Westgate attack, at least 64 people have been killed and another 263 injured in “terrorist attacks,” according to Maplecroft, the Bath, U.K.-based risk consultancy.

‘Destructive Politics’

While army spokesman Major Emmanuel Chirchir said on his Twitter account the attackers were “likely” to be al-Shabaab militants, Interior Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku said the incident may be related to Kenyan politics. “We don’t rule it out,” he told reporters today in Nairobi.

Ole Lenku urged Kenyan politicians he didn’t identify to “desist from destructive politics and ethnic profiling that may be responsible for this heinous act.”

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on June 13 began a series of planned rallies to press the government to hold a national dialog to discuss growing insecurity, the high cost of living and an overhaul of the country’s electoral body. President Uhuru Kenyatta has rejected the request.

Odinga last year lost his third bid to become president in an election that Kenyatta won with 50.5 percent of the vote.

The rallies will culminate in a gathering in Nairobi on July 7. That date marks Saba Saba day in Kenya, which commemorates a government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1990 that left more than 100 people dead, according to Human Rights Watch. The protests helped usher in multiparty democracy in Kenya.

Land Dispossession

Mpeketoni is situated in Kenya’s coastal region where last year clashes between rival ethnic communities, partly over land and other resources, left hundreds of people dead, according to a panel established to investigate the fighting.

In the 1970s, the government of former President Jomo Kenyatta settled about 30,000 ethnic Kikuyu from central Kenya in Mpeketoni, dispossessing some local communities of land, according to a paper commissioned by the state-run Commission on Revenue Allocation. When the so-called Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme in the area was designed, indigenous and Muslim villages in the area were discriminated against and not included in the program, according to the paper.

Police are hunting the perpetrators of yesterday’s attack who fled into the nearby Boni Forest, while security has been beefed up across the country, Ole Lenku said.

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