Militants from the al-Shabaab jihadist group attacked a police vehicle in northern Kenya Monday morning, firing a rocket propelled grenade that killed five officers, leaving two of them burnt beyond recognition.
According to Mandera County Police Commander Job Boronjo, the officers were escorting a passenger bus near the Kenya-Somalia border when they were ambushed. The bus managed to escape the scene, saving the passengers, but the assailants fired a grenade at the police vehicle, which engulfed them in flames. Four officers survived.
Al Shabaab, which took responsibility for the attack, is based in neighboring Somalia but has made a series of deadly incursions into Kenya, in retaliation for a Kenyan troop presence in an African Union force combating the Islamists in Somalia.
A spokesman for al-Shabaab military operations, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, informed Reuters that four officers had also been wounded and a vehicle in their convoy was burned in the assault by its fighters.
“This was a well-arranged ambush by the militants,” Boronjo said, adding that the jihadists are believed to have fled toward the Somalia border.
Immediately after the attack, the jihadists fled the scene, according to North Eastern Regional coordinator Mohamed Saleh. Authorities sent reinforcements to pursue the attackers but they came up empty-handed.
“We condemn the attack by Al Shabaab at Dimu this morning, five police officers killed,” Mandera County Governor, Ali Roba, said in a Tweet Monday. The governor also accused police of not acting on an earlier intelligence warning, saying that the presence of the militants “was long shared by the locals.”
Kenya’s long northeastern border with Somalia is a security weak spot according to diplomats, due to various factors including poor coordination between security services, a culture of corruption and the inherent difficulty of policing a long frontier.
The al-Shabaab group is a long-standing ally of al-Qaeda, and has been fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally backed government in Mogadishu, which is protected by 22,000 African Union troops, including Kenyan soldiers.
The jihadists have carried out numerous attacks in Kenya, including the killing of at least 67 people at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in 2013 and the slaughter of 148 mostly Christian students at the Garissa University in April 2015.
Al-Shabaab has managed to recruit hundreds of Kenyan youths, who reportedly make up the largest contingent of its foreign fighters.
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