Unidentified gunmen attacked and set fire to at least three hotels and a petrol station at Mpeketoni on mainland Lamu last night. Reliable reports from international news agencies now put the death toll at 47.
Police said the attackers arrived in a van and then also attacked a police station. The Interior Ministry had earlier reported that the attackers had arrived in two public minibuses and started shooting at residents.
Witnesses said the gunmen had their faces covered and threw explosive devices into the local police station before entering and stealing several weapons. Gun battles then went on for several hours and local people reported seeing buildings set on fire and bodies scattered across roads in the town.
“SOME HOTELS ON FIRE”
“Attackers hijacked a van from Witu town which they used for the attacks. They raided Mpeketoni police station first and opened fire,” Hamaton Mwaliko, the Mpeketoni administrative police chief told the news agency Reuters.
“Some hotels in the town are on fire. We don’t know how many casualties are there for now. We understand the attackers have already fled but our officers are pursuing them.”
It is as yet not clear how many attackers were involved and what group was responsible.
“We have reports of consistent gunfire in Lamu county which started at 8:30pm (1730 GMT). We still don’t know what exactly is happening but our officers are on the ground,” Mwanaisha Hamisi, the Kenya Red Cross coordinator for the coast region told Reuters.
Surveillance aircraft are reported to have been sent to the region to help with the security operation.
Lamu is a popular tourist destination in Kenya but the country has seen a drop in tourist arrivals in recent months following a series of gun and grenade attacks blamed on Al-Shabaab militants.
Explosions in Nairobi and Mombasa in May resulted in Britain, the United States, France and Australia to issue warnings about travel to Kenya. Kenya termed the alerts “unfriendly”, saying they would increase panic and play into the hands of the militants behind the terrorist attacks.