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Suspected al-Shabab Islamists behead 9 at Kenya’s coastal city of Lamu

NAIROBI — Islamist militants are suspected in the beheading of nine men in Lamu County, on Kenya's southeast coast. The attack occurred in Jima village, James Ole Serian, leader of a task force of government security agencies combating al-Shabab, told the Associated Press.

The attack is the latest in a series of fatal assaults by ­al-Shabab on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya's involvement in military action against the militant group in Somalia. Kenya is one of five African nations who have sent troops to help support the fragile government in Somalia.

Friday night's attack occurred just days after a similar attack at a police station in a nearby village of Pandaguo on Wednesday in which three police officers were killed.

Johnson Kitsao, a witness to Friday night's attack, said about 16 armed militia attacked two villages, Jima and Poromoko. "They were targeting only male residents," Kitsao said. "They went from house to house, dragging out men, they managed to take with them 10 men." One of the men managed to escape, but the other nine were beheaded mercilessly, Kitsao said.

Kitsao said that it appeared to him that they were specifically looking for non-Muslim men.

Another eyewitness, Johnson Ndokolane, said the attackers were, "ruthless, using knives to slaughter the men they had held captive."

Al-Shabab has used beheadings as a way to terrorize villagers in Somalia, but they have been rare in Kenya. The group, however, have increasingly used bomb attacks in Kenya, killing at least 46 in Lamu and Mandera counties, according to the Associated Press.

He said the number of casualties could have been greater, but after the attack on the police station in Pandaguo, a lot of nonresidents moved away.

"They felt very insecure," Ndokolane said. "The ones that remained were just the unlucky ones. They thought they were safe because of the heavy security presence after the attack."

Lamu County is home to Boni Forest, where the al-Shabab militiamen are believed to hide out.

Agents from the Kenya Defence Forces have responded to previous terrorist attacks by pursuing the attackers and pushing them into the forest. Locals, however, say such operations are not successful, because the militants are only pursued so far into the forest.

"If the government is afraid of dealing with this militia, then they should arm us appropriately so that we can deal with them," said Kitsao. "We do not feel safe at all."