Insurgents flying black Islamist flags drove into a coastal town in Kenya yesterday and killed some 48 people while they were watching the World Cup, according to news reports.
“We are yet to know if they were al-Shabab militants, but so far we have 48 bodies including a police officer. Our officers on the ground are collecting more, which indicates the toll could rise,” a local police official, David Kimaiyo, told a Kenyan newspaper.
According to the BBC, witnesses said about 50 attackers rode into the town of Mpeketoni, raided a police station, set buildings on fire and engaged in gun battles for about four hours before fleeing.
Additional reports said the same attackers hit surrounding towns after they were finished in Mpeketoni. “There are six bodies here, a man and a child in their house, four lying on the road,” Mohammed Hassan, a resident of Kibaoni, told Kenya’s Daily Nation.
“The attackers were so many and were all armed with guns. They entered the video hall where we were watching a World Cup match and shot indiscriminately at us,” Meshack Kimani told Reuters.
“They targeted only men, but I was lucky. I escaped by hiding behind the door.”
Sunday’s assault is the worst since last September when al-Shabab gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, leaving 67 people dead.
Kenya has suffered a number of militant attacks since 2011 when its forces entered neighboring Somalia to combat al-Shabab fighters.
Warnings by security experts that Islamist militants might attack crowds watching the World Cup in public places, as they did in 2010 in Uganda, appear to have kept many at home during the soccer tournament, according to the Associated Press.
The Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala, Uganda, was one of two spots attacked by al-Shabab militants during the 2010 World Cup. The blasts killed 74 people.
“It is only the al-Shabaab that we can suspect, because they are the ones that can attack innocent people like that,” Lamu County Commissioner Stephen Ikua said in a phone interview with Bloomberg News. The Kenya Red Cross put the death toll at 48 and said it’s providing psychological support to victims and survivors.