Wednesday 18 October 2017

Kenyan president blames 'local networks' after 60 die in attacks

A resident holds a placard as he participates in a protest against the recent attack by unidentified gunmen in the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni. Reuters
A resident holds a placard as he participates in a protest against the recent attack by unidentified gunmen in the coastal Kenyan town of Mpeketoni. Reuters

Mike Pflanz

Kenya's president has blamed local political activists for back-to-back attacks that left more than 60 dead over two days, raising the spectre of renewed ethnic clashes of the kind that swept the country after the 2007 election.

In a live television address, Uhuru Kenyatta ignored claims from al-Shabaab, the al-Qa'ida-linked terrorist group, that it was responsible for two days of killings near the country's coast, and instead blamed "local political networks". He said they wanted to drive out members of his own Kikuyu tribe in a campaign of "politically-motivated ethnic violence".

His rhetoric provoked disbelief and outrage in Lamu, the string of islands – popular with international tourists – that lie to the east of the coastal town of Mpeketoni, where the attacks took place.

"He is crazy. He is trying to turn all Kenya against him and his Kikuyus," said Hassan Ahmed Ali, a retired bank worker watching Mr Kenyatta's speech in Lamu. "This is like 2007."

Fears of a return to the ethnic clashes that led to 1,500 deaths and almost tore Kenya apart seven years ago will fuel growing concerns over the safety of the country's all-important tourist industry.

Although foreign visitors were not the targets of the attacks in Mpeketoni on Sunday and Monday nights, al-Shabaab warned: "Kenya is officially a war zone".

Hotels on the country's beaches were already struggling following travel advice from Britain and other countries to avoid Mombasa city and beaches to its north. Safari guides also worry that terror attacks could keep tourists away.

"I'd already had half of my clients for this year cancel," said Isaac Rotich, one of Kenya's leading private safari guides. "All of us are worried. It's very difficult to reassure people. We are vulnerable and we need to see much better security measures all over the country."

Tourism drives more than 10pc of the economy, and supports more than half a million jobs. However, senior tourism industry figures have tried to reassure visitors that national parks and wilderness areas are far from the areas where the Islamists are operating.

No successful terror attack has specifically targeted tourists since 2002, when al-Qa'ida sent a suicide bomber into a hotel north of Mombasa popular with Israelis, and also tried and failed to down a holiday jet bound for Tel Aviv. But the Westgate Shopping Centre siege in the capital, Nairobi, last September, appeared designed to include foreigners among its victims.

An improvised bomb left in a hotel near Mombasa in May failed to explode as planned, but suggested terrorists once again planned to strike hotels. (©Daily Telegraph, London) Comments Facility

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