Armed assailants have attacked a camp of police reservists and burned down nearby homes and businesses, a regional official said on Tuesday, as violence escalates on Kenya’s northern coast. But there were no reported deaths this time.
In the nearby coastal town of Lamu, residents also reported finding leaflets strewn about, apparently from a Somali Islamist group, threatening Christians and the government.
The government has promised to track down those behind attacks on coastal towns and villages, most of which have been deadly, but worried locals say the repeated assaults show the state is not doing enough or is powerless to stop them.
Hundreds of families have fled homes in Lamu County, where the worst attacks have occurred, sheltering in camps near police posts or fleeing the region altogether.
A once vibrant tourist trade in the area and all along the coast has been hammered.
“The assailants attacked a camp belonging to Kenya police reservists in Hindi and burnt it down before they burnt down other houses and businesses in Amu Ranch,” Lamu County Commissioner Miiri Njenga told Reuters.
The attackers, who struck late on Monday, also set vehicles on fire.
Hindi was the site of an attack on Saturday that killed 9 people and Amu Ranch is nearby. Both are close to Mpeketoni area, the site of two assaults in mid-June that left 65 people dead.
Raising tensions, residents of Lamu, a historic Arab trading port and capital of the county, said leaflets were spread in the town warning Christians and the government not to victimise Muslims, without saying what could happen if they did.
The leaflets, which were pinned to electricity polls and trees or simply found strewn on the ground, bore the emblem of the al Shabaab Islamist group, which claims most attacks and has vowed to drive Kenyan and African Union forces out of Somalia.
“We think they are meant to instil fear in locals who are not originally from here (Lamu) and we are trying to establish the source and authors,” Njenga said.
The coast, notably around Lamu, has a history of land disputes where traditional coastal peoples accuse ethnic groups from up country of taking their property. Among relative newcomers are Kikuyus, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ethnic group.
The government has said recent attacks had nothing to do with al Shabaab and instead blamed local groups – seen as directed at their political opponents. Police have also suggested a coastal separatist group could have a role.
The uncertainty about who is to blame has made many Kenyans even more nervous, because they fear that the security forces will struggle to prevent more attacks if officials cannot agree on who is behind them.
One former security official suggested the attacks could involve several sets of people. Al Shabaab might be using the knowledge of local operatives with grievances to stoke ethnic rivalries, he said.
He also said the Mombasa Republic Council, an outlawed coastal separatist group, could be taking part. The group has consistently denied any role in the killings, but some analysts say it might be regrouping and splinter groups may have formed.