Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tuesday that two nights of deadly attacks on Kenya’s coast were not the work of Somali militants who have asserted responsibility for the violence. Instead Kenyatta blamed local leaders, whom he accused of seeking to “divide” the country.

“This was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack,” he said in a televised address the day after militants struck the coast for the second night in a row, killing at least 15 people in the village of Poromoko.

The president did not go into details or name suspects, but he blamed local leaders for what he called “well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated violence.”

The statement came despite al-
Shabab’s assertion of responsibility for the attacks, which began Sunday night with militants laying siege to the town of Mpeketoni, killing 48 people.

On Monday, the group released a statement saying its fighters burned a police station, a bank, hotels and other buildings in retaliation for the killings of Muslim scholars in the Kenyan city of Mombasa and the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. The group declared Kenya a “war zone” and warned tourists to stay home.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the group asserted responsibility for the attack in Poromoko and vowed that the violence would continue.

Witnesses to both incidents said the attackers appeared to be targeting victims based on religion.

Omar Awadh Salim, 48, said he was at home with his family Monday night when six men dressed in masks and military-like attire showed up at his door with guns and knives. He said they ordered him to recite the Shahada,
the Muslim profession of faith. When
he did so, Salim said, the attackers left his home and proceeded to the next house.

But the area where the violence occurred, near the resort town of Lamu, also has a history of ethnic tensions, locals say. The towns that were attacked are populated primarily by Kikuyus, the ethnic group to which Kenyatta belongs. Most Kikuyus are Christian.

Kenya has experienced ethnic violence before. After the disputed presidential election of 2007, riots between Kikuyus and members of the Luo tribe left more than 1,200 people dead. Ken­yatta is one of several Kenyan leaders who has been charged by the International Criminal Court with inciting the violence. His trial is set to begin later this year.

In recent weeks, he has clashed publicly with opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, whose loss in the 2007 election helped incite the violence.