NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s president blamed political leaders inside Kenya Tuesday for carrying out two nights of deadly attacks that killed at least 60 people in coastal communities, saying that despite claims of responsibility from al-Shabab, the Islamic extremists were not behind it.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a nationally televised address, said evidence indicates that local political leaders inside Kenya were behind what he termed ethnically motivated violence. The Somali militant group al-Shabab had claimed responsibility for two nights of attacks near the tourist resort island of Lamu that targeted non-Muslims.
The newer attack came Monday night in Majembeni village in which 10 people died. The village is next to Mpeketoni, where four dozen Christian men were slaughtered Sunday night and Monday morning.
Al-Shabab said the second attack killed government workers and Christians. A county commissioner, Benson Maisori, said the attackers appear to have been the same in both cases.
“The style of killing is the same. They slit the victims’ throats wide open or shot them several times in the head,” said Maisori.
But in a surprising turn of events, Kenyatta said outright that al-Shabab did not plan and execute the attack, but rather local leaders. He did not get more specific.
Kenyatta said police officials in Mpeketoni had advance intelligence about the attack but did not act on it. The president said some officers have been suspended and will be prosecuted.
Kenyatta said that some political leaders are preaching the idea that some Kenyans are less human than others. “My deputy and I will never go the route of ethnic violence,” Kenyatta said.
The back-to-back attacks underscore the weak security around the Lamu area, which lies just south of the Somali border. Lamu once attracted swarms of foreign visitors but its tourist sector has been suffering in recent years because of the violence.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said a new slate of government and security officials have been installed in Lamu, in part because “there seems to be some inside job.”
Ole Lenku said the problem facing the country “is elaborate and is intended to cause discord among our people.” Meanwhile, Muslim leaders on Tuesday conferred inside Nairobi’s largest mosque, a grand white facade nestled among the capital’s high rises. The bearded elders from four different Muslim groups condemned what they called savage acts and ghastly killings and said there was no justification for the deaths.
The Muslims leaders warned of a potential sectarian rift.
“The continued violence risks tearing the country apart,” they said, continuing later: “We need to be cognizant of the fact that some of these attacks are aimed at planning seeds of discord and animosity among Kenyans and divide the country along ethnic and religious lines.”
The Muslim leaders said the government is taking “knee-jerk reactions” and harassing specific communities, a reference to Kenya’s Somali population, which has suffered in a widespread crackdown the last several months which has seen the arrests of thousands of Somalis and the deportation of dozens.
Kenya has seen ethnic violence rip apart the country in recent years. More than 1,000 people were killed in ethnically motivated violence after the country’s 2007 election. That violence, though, did not have religious component to it.