Troops' fierce gunfight as new grenade attack kills
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The Kenya Defence Forces moved to capture Burgavo, another town critical to Al Shabaab, but are being slowed down by heavy rain and mud even as another grenade attack left four Kenyans dead in Mandera County.
|A Kenya military Personnel. Kenya’s operation in Somalia against A Shabaab enters its 13th day [PHOTO: STANDARD]|
Thursday’s deaths in Mandera bring to five the number of Kenyans killed in grenade attacks this week.
The four Government officials were on their way to Mandera town to pick Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (KCSE) papers that were to be sat today by Form Four candidates.
Two grenade attacks separated by hours in downtown Nairobi on Monday killed one person and wounded dozens more.
Mr Elgiva Bwire Oliacha, alias Mohamed Seif, who was arrested by an elite police unit following the grenade attacks, admitted in court on Wednesday to being a member of the extremist Shabaab militia.
He was found with several grenades, rifles and war literature in a house in Kayole estate on Tuesday.
Kenya shares a long and porous border with Somalia and the Shabaab have carried out several cross-border raids and abducted civilians.
Burgavo town, targeted by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), is critical to Al Shabaab as they control its charcoal and fish trade.
Military Spokesperson Major Emmanuel Chirchir said on Monday that the KDF also "carried out an air attack on Anole where Al Shabaab has a "logistical training camp" and said an assessment of the damage would be revealed later.
And for the first time, Kenyan troops directly engaged the Al Qaeda-linked group after an estimated 45 Al Shabaab militants attacked them as they were moving from the recently captured Tabda to Beles Qooqani to reinforce the frontline of the military engagement dubbed Operation Linda Nchi.
Major Chirchir said nine militants were killed in the battle while two KDF soldiers were injured, one critically.
The two were airlifted from the scene to receive medical attention.
In Monday’s incident in Mandera, the attackers’ faces were covered and they were heavily armed.
Speaking to The Standard, area councillor Adan Hussein Wiriq said the deceased were heading to Mandera town where the KCSE papers are usually stored when they met their brutal death.
Reuters on Monday quoted Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Muktar Robow Abu Mansoor as calling on members of the terrorist group’s sleeper cells in Kenya to stop using grenades and unleash more devastating attacks.
"The time to ask Kenya to stop war has passed. The only option is to fight them. Kenya, you have started the war and so you have to face the consequences," told a crowd at Elasha, near the Somalia capital of Mogadishu.
|Kenya Defence Forces take position as they advance deep in Somalia where they are fighting the Al Shabaab militia. [PHOTO: MAXWELL AGWANDA/STANDARD]|
KNEC Secretary Paul Wasanga mourned the dead and termed the incident "barbaric and cowardly".
He sent his condolences and those of KNEC to the families of the dead.
Councillor Wiriq, who was among the first people to arrive at the scene to remove the bodies of those killed, said two Kenya Police Reservists escorting the vehicle escaped with slight injuries after engaging the militants in a fierce gun battle, but had to flee as their weapons were no match for the assailants.
Under attackCouncillor Wiriq said the vehicle, that belonged to fallen school principal, was heading to Mandera from Lafey, some 110km west of the town, to collect the KCSE Physics Practical papers, which were to be done Monday, when it came under the attack at Kamor Liban village, some 7km from Lafey Township.
"At first, they opened fire indiscriminately at the vehicle, but the police reservists on board fired back before jumping out of the car to engage them. Then the suspected Somali militia replied by hurling two hand grenades at the vehicle, killing the two education officials, the former councillor and the driver who remained in the car," said Wiriq.
The incident comes barely two days after Mandera town chief Mr Jamal Abass, 49, was shot dead while heading home from a neighbouring Mosque.
Lafey DC Jacob Ruto said the bodies of the deceased were brought to Lafey Dispensary as the Government sent security personnel to pursue the militants. He said the Government would provide security for all public service vehicles plying the route.
However, the area councillor said the locals received information of threats from Al Shabaab, who declared their intention to destroy Damasa and Lafey towns by Monday, a threat he said they had shared with the Government but sadly came and passed.
On Wednesday evening, the Tanzanian Government also issued a terrorism alert following the Nairobi attacks. "We have received threats," Robert Manumba, director of criminal investigations, told state TV.
Al Qaeda struck Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing hundreds of people in suicide bombings of the US embassies there.
On the Kenyan offensive, Major Chirchir thanked the Kenyan media for their objective reporting but asked them to be on the alert for propaganda from Al Shabaab on "the social networks or forums":
He noted: "We urge the media to seek clarification from the undersigned on any reports posted on any of these sites before reporting it as news or facts."
The Military Spokesperson said the Kenya Defence Forces were acting within the Constitution "in defending and protecting the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kenya."
No negotiationEarlier on Monday, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua ruled out any negotiations with Al Shabaab, saying the Kenya Government does not negotiate with outlawed groups.
He was reacting to conflicting accounts over whether the extremist group had signalled a desire to negotiate with Kenya.
"Al Shabaab has not contacted Kenya in any way. There are no plans for Kenya to negotiate with Al Shabaab. Kenya does not negotiate with outlawed groups."
However, and in a baffling contradiction, Kenya’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Onyonka addressed a press conference to say that Kenya was ready to negotiate with Al Shabaab leaders if they were ready to renounce violence.
"The truth is Al Shabaab is frequently and constantly in touch with the Kenyan Government. The Government position has always been we are frequently engaged with all the stakeholders of crisis in Somalia, our position has always been we must use both military, if need be and consistently diplomatic channels to try and negotiate and discuss," Onyonka told journalists at Parliament Buildings.
Onyonka said Somalia President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed – who recently changed tune regarding the Kenyan operation – was well aware of the operation in his country.
"We have supported him and his government...Amison troops are being killed in Mogadishu...he asked us to send the troops there...We have been defending and protecting him," said the minister.
"We want him to state clearly if he issued that statement," said Onyonka.
On Wednesday, the Somalia Government sent out a statement saying it welcomed Kenyan support in stabilising the anarchic country, and that its Prime Minister would lead a team that would coordinate with Nairobi.
"We support Kenya’s operation inside Somalia because they support, train and provide other military support to our troops to defeat Al Shabaab," Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Reuters in an interview.
- Additional reporting by Agencies