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Gunmen kill 48 in Mpeketoni’s night orgy of violence
Commercial buildings were torched during the Sunday night raid in Mpeketoni.
Lamu, Kenya: They struck just as dinner tables were being cleared and as residents settled down to watch the World Cup.

Still other Mpeketoni residents were walking down the streets or lounging and bantering about the ending day.

But the mayhem that followed will forever leave scars in the hearts of Kenyans; and always claw at the conscience of the police officers who could probably have averted it had they acted on a report on two matatus carjacked and one driver shot as another fled into the bush, slightly over two hours earlier.

For those are the vehicles that ferried the merchants of death; the killers who descended on innocent civilians, stormed into and blew up buildings, and by the time they left, 50 lay dead and many more were left with injuries they will probably have to live with for the rest of their lives.

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Terror attack

That was on Sunday night, the day of the worst terror attack since the Westgate Mall siege and the attendant killings last September.

Many questions remain unanswered about the audacity and swift success of Sunday’s armed assault on the coastal town of Lamu whose morgues are filled with corpses of men who were mowed down in a long night of a terrorist orgy.

Local officials were quick to blame Somalia’s Al Shabaab but still numerous questions linger on how an attack that depicts immense planning and sophistication could occur under their watch, without the slightest detection.

Reports that authorities had been notified about the carjacking of two mini-buses at around 7pm but apparently failed to act could highlight the weakness in countering attacks.

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This after it was claimed it is the two vehicles that the attackers, who were estimated at 50, drove into the town for the orgy of violence.

Mpeketoni is located approximately 40 kilometres inland, off the Indian Ocean coastline.

The heavily armed gunmen are reported to have attacked a police station, two hotels, restaurant, petrol station, bank, and a government office.

Key security officials maintained silence to deflect queries amid reports that they could be transferred from the county immediately and held to account. And they could also not explain why, having failed to anticipate and detect the attack, security response was at best feeble and and coordination poor.

Take charge

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President Uhuru Kenyatta later directed Interior and Co-ordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku to take personal charge of the operation in Lamu.

“To the people of Mpeketoni, Lamu County, and the nation: the President pledges swift action against all those responsible for the heinous attacks,” the President said through a statement issued by his spokesman Mr Manoah Esipisu. 

“In order to focus on the incident in Mpeketoni, the President has postponed a trip to Moyale, previously scheduled for tomorrow (today),” added the statement.

The President condoled the bereaved families and wished those injured quick recovery.

On May 25 this year, suspected Al Shabaab militants sneaking from Southern Somalia through Boni Forest attacked a Kenya Defence Forces convoy and killed two soldiers and escaped with weapons, a few kilometres from Manda Bay naval base.

The attack followed an Al Shabaab threat to open war inside Kenya.

“These operatives appear to have studied the area. They knew where everybody had gone and that police were on patrol,” claimed Lamu County Commissioner Stephen Ikua, as he appeared to concede that security forces had been caught unprepared.

Most survivors claimed all top security officials and police headquarters switched off their cell phones after the attack while a senior chief disclosed that he issued a distress signal to Lamu Police Headquarters after the local police station was attacked but key officials only sent reinforcements after five hours.

As the blame-game intensified, a senior intelligence official claimed the National Intelligence Service intercepted communication from Southern Somali last week warning of an imminent attack, “in the Coast but the report was not specific about the actual place of attack”.

The source said the report was shared with the national government and foreign governments leading to last week’s closure of the British consulate in Mombasa on Friday.

As night fell last evening, many bodies including charred remains inside a burnt car remained on the streets because the local morgue was full.

The body of a uniformed policeman still in uniform was lying in a thicket where he had tried to hide with civilians in the afternoon.

He was one of the estimated four officers killed in the massacre that targeted only men, save for a woman who was shot in the abdomen in her house but survived and is now hospitalised at Lamu District Hospital.

Mr Michael Aiyabei, Kenya Red Cross Disaster Manager in charge of Coast region, said 48 people died in the attack. “We have counted 48 bodies which are in the mortuary. There is also one corpse trapped in a car which was set ablaze behind the hospital,” he said.

Most bodies bore bullet injuries to the head and chest and paramedics who examined them said they were killed at close range while a few were decapitated by use of sharp knives.

James Wanyoike, a hotelier whose property the Breeze View Hotel was attacked with small arms and later shelled with what appeared to be heavy weapon told The Standard in Mpeketoni that the group of close to two dozen attackers swept into the centre of Mpeketoni in two vans and from his second floor room he initially believed they were Kenyan police officers until they began raiding hotels and opening fire.

“When I realised these were not policemen I switched off the lights and they shot at me but missed,” he said, adding that to escape and jumped from the second floor into the bush where hundreds had fled to hide.

According to reliable accounts, the attack on Mpeketoni began at 7pm on Sunday with the hijacking of matatu vans on Malindi-Lamu road. One driver was shot for resisting giving away the car keys while the other fled into the darkness and passengers thrown out.

A junior police officer told The Standard that a report was made at the local police headquarters but there was no fuel to pursue the attackers on police truck.

 At around 7.45 pm the two vans passed through the last road block at Kibaoni towards Mpeketoni town.

Eyewitnesses indicate that the gunmen who allegedly included pale-skinned/white members attacked Mpeketoni Police Station and abandoned it after meeting some resistance but still shelled and burnt it to the ground as police fled in different directions.

Other accounts indicate the attackers reigned freely in town because most policemen were watching the World Cup matches despite pre-attack intelligence warming of an imminent attack.

As the attackers swept through the town, raiding residents and shelling Equity Bank branch, Kenya Women Finance Trust office block, petrol stations and other installations police were overwhelmed.

Other accounts suggest the attackers sought out men who could not recite the Muslim declaration of faith or Shahada, to kill them.

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