MEN were executed in front of their families and others who had gathered to watch World Cup soccer games on television were brutally mowed down during the weekend’s bloody attacks in Kenya.
Kenyans are now all on edge, wondering if they will be next – and tourists have been warned by the al- Shabaab Islamic extremist group to stay away from the country.
“Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril,” alShabaab said.
The Somali- linked Islamists killed at least 50 people in Mpeketoni, as they raced into the coastal town in two minibuses on Sunday night and targeted hotels, a public viewing area, a police post and a bank.
At least 30 masked gunmen were in the vehicles.
“How can three police officers with pistols stand against 30 gunmen armed with automatic rifles? It must have been horrendous,” former Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University student Falgun Bhojack, 29, who returned to Nairobi in 2009, said.
“We are all scared. It’s nothing strange to see a taxi riddled with bullet holes stop next to you while driving.
“Violence is everywhere, like an ongoing war. We are angry, but what can we do about it?”
Bhojack said although he was not anywhere near Mpeketoni when the attack happened, he felt the pain of those affected.
“In Nairobi life is moving on, but everyone is afraid,” he said. “Even though these attacks were far away, we have seen similar violence in our city, and you never know where the next brutal attack will take place.”
The United States condemned the attack.
“There can be no place for appalling acts of violence such as this in any society,” government spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Sunday’s assault is the worst since last September when al-Shabaab gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, leaving 67 people dead.
After Westgate, al-Shabaab warned of more attacks.
“The attackers were so many and were all armed with guns. They entered the video hall where we were watching a World Cup match and shot indiscriminately at us,” Meshack Kimani said of the attack. “They targeted only men but I was lucky. I escaped by hiding behind the door.”
Other witnesses said those gathering for the screenings fled just before the attackers arrived but were found in hiding places and then shot.
Many were shot at close range in the head.
“The wives who came to identify the bodies said the attackers forced them and their children to watch as they killed their husbands,” Peter Kamotho, a tailor volunteering at a makeshift morgue, said.
Some of the wounded were taken to a hospital in Lamu, a historic Arab trading port that is a big tourist attraction about 30km from Mpeketoni.
The attack could heighten existing worries in other African countries – such as Nigeria, which is battling the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, and Uganda – that bars and other venues hosting World Cup match screenings could become terror attack targets.
A total of 77 soccer fans died in twin blasts in Uganda’s capital Kampala during the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Moi University environmental education professor Julius Tanui said everyone was more cautious after Sunday’s attack.
“People are avoiding public places, like the soccer viewing areas. They are staying home and travelling much less,” Tanui said.
“I myself cancelled a scheduled trip to Nairobi later this week. No one knows where the next attack might be.
“And it seems like the al-Shabaab attacks are intensifying, as this latest group of 30 gunmen was one of the biggest to date. It was like a small army.”
Tanui said the British and American consulates in the area had closed their doors.
“Now we must wonder if these countries are sharing all their information with our government, or is the Kenyan government just not sharing information with our people.”
Kenyan hotels said bookings had dropped sharply because of recent attacks and Western travel warnings.
Some hotels on the coast said they faced closure, while hoteliers inland who offer safaris said reservations were down by 30% or more.
Already, Britain and other countries are warning against visiting the main coastal city of Mombasa and beaches to its north.
“It seems a bloody disaster whichever way you look at it, but really we can’t tell what the outcome will be until the dust settles,” Carol Korschen, owner of one of Lamu’s smartest hotels, said.
“We had good bookings. We have security in place after the earlier incidents, and we feel completely safe here.
“The problem is one of perception,” Korschen said.
But another hotelier, who did not want to be named, said: “To be honest, why would anyone come to Kenya at the moment? You’d choose somewhere, anywhere else, logically.”
In 2011, Somali gunmen kidnapped English yachtswoman Judith Tebbutt, 48km north of Lamu, and killed her husband.
Three weeks later, a retired French journalist, Marie Dedieu, was taken hostage far closer to Lamu’s main beach areas. She died soon after. – Riaan Marais. Additional reporting by Reuters, The Telegraph