NAIROBI - Al-Shabab militants attached a police post Wednesday on Kenya’s coast, sparking a day-long gun battle that killed three officers and injured a fourth, according to police officials. Kenya has seen an uptick in attacks over the past two months near its border with Somalia.
Police officials say the gun battle went on for 10 hours after armed men raided a police post in Lamu County Wednesday. The VOA Somali service reports that al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Since May, al-Shabab has carried out a series of deadly attacks in Kenya’s northeast and coast regions, which border Somalia. The targets have been security forces, however a roadside bomb against a police vehicle last week in Lamu County also killed four schoolchildren.
Interior ministry spokesperson Mwenda Njoka says the porous border complicates the situation.
“We saw many activities going on the side of Garissa, and some of these guys moving back to Somalia," Njoka said. "But since Ramadan, that’s when we started having the IED’s and all that. So the latest incident does not necessarily mean that our multi-agencies that are there have been ineffective. They are still effective, but occasionally you expect some of these insurgents to make entry and cause a loss on our side.”
He said security forces are enhancing patrols, which may include patrols by air.
Some analysts see a link between the fresh spate of attacks and nationwide elections coming August 8.
“They know everybody is so much focused into politics at the expense of security,” said Tuta.
Kenyan security expert Richard Tuta says he fears al-Shabab may have been able to establish roots in the Boni forest despite Kenyan military operations that began nearly two years ago to flush them out. The forest stretches from Lamu County into Somalia.
“Kenya as a country, we will start experiencing terrorism being exported not now from Somalia, but from Boni forest itself because it’s also acting as a very good training ground for the jihadists,” said Tuta.
The duration of the gun battle Wednesday, as well as the reported number of attackers, as many as 200 fighters according to some Kenyan media, have raised concern. Police have not confirmed the number of assailants.
George Musamali is director of the Center for Risk Management in Africa.
“From Kiunga, you get [to] Raskambooni. We have a whole brigade of KDF plus the Somali national army. So it’s become very difficult for people to traverse this country and cross the border and get to Kenya to carry out these attacks," Musamali said. "So it means basically that these al-Shabab guys are actually based in Boni forest itself. They are not coming from across the border.”
However, the Interior Ministry spokesperson told VOA al-Shabab does not have long-term bases in the Boni forest. He said the militants “come and go.”
Kenya sent its troops to Somalia more than five years ago as part of an African Union force to defeat al-Shabab. The al-Qaida-linked group responded by ramping up attacks on Kenyan soil. The most recent large-scale attack in Kenya was over two years ago on Garissa University in the northeast. 150 people were killed, most of them students.