Between Two Tales, Kenyans Seek Answers For Latest Attacks
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Back-to-back attacks along Kenya's coast have claimed more than 60 lives this week. The Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility saying the attacks were meant to punish Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to combat its fighters. But today Kenya's president dismissed that claim and instead he blamed the attacks on local political networks. For more on this story, we're joined by Kate Linthicum of the Los Angeles Times. She's in Nairobi. And Kate, tell us first how these events unfolded and who was targeted in these attacks.
KATE LINTHICUM: The first attack was on Sunday night. A group of armed militants hijacked two buses and sped into the coastal town of Mpeketoni, where they burned banks, hotels, a police station and killed at least 49 people, including a group of men who had gathered in a video hall to watch a World Cup match. They rampaged through the town for five hours and then escaped without being caught. The next night they struck again, this time in the town of Poromoko. At least 15 people are believed to be dead and others unaccounted for. Witnesses in both cases say that religion seemed to have played a role. Attackers, in some case, asked people their religion and then killed anybody who couldn't prove that they were a Muslim.
BLOCK: Well, what do you make of the statements today by Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta? He is suggesting that it's local leaders behind the attacks.
LINTHICUM: Yeah, it's a surprising turn, given that al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility. Kenyatta was not clear about who exactly he thinks is responsible. He just said that it is politically motivated ethnic violence. His comments are believed to be a thinly-veiled attack at his opponent, Raila Odinga, who recently returned to Kenya after a period abroad and who's been holding anti-government rallies and who's been very critical of Kenyatta's approach to security and his handling of the attacks this weekend.
BLOCK: Now we'll remember that al-Shabaab was behind the deadly attack at the Westgate Mall last fall in Nairobi. Are there any similarities between that attack or other attacks by al-Shabaab and what happened in these coastal towns over the weekend and last night?
LINTHICUM: Well, al-Shabaab's attacks, up until this point, have been mostly in Nairobi and Mombasa - big cities. The attack in Westgate was aimed very much at the international community. It's a very cosmopolitan population here. This attack in a small town - off the radar - is different, definitely is a break in the earlier pattern. That said, witnesses reported that some of the attackers were Somali-speaking and that they flew al-Shabaab flags.
BLOCK: What's the response been to these latest attacks from the Kenyan people?
LINTHICUM: I think the Kenyan people are confused. I think they want to know if this is al-Shabaab or something else. Here in Nairobi, I must say it's a very tense mood. I think Westgate and a pair of bus bombings last month and other bombing attacks have got people definitely on their toes and suspicious. And these attacks this weekend only increase that mood.
BLOCK: And how is the government responding to these attacks? In the past, the government has launched a crackdown on the Somali population. But in this case, if they're saying they're blaming it on local leaders, is there any aftermath to that? Any fallout?
LINTHICUM: So far, they've responded by sending some top-level officials to these areas on the coast where the attacks took place. The interior minister was there today and actually faced a large protest from some of the residents who said, why didn't you protect us? You know, this siege on Sunday night and the one on Monday both lasted five hours, witnesses say. And they weren't helped by police or security personnel. So they want to know, you know, what is the government going to do going forward?
BLOCK: That's Los Angeles Time reporter Kate Linthicum. She was speaking with us from Nairobi. Kate, thanks so much.
LINTHICUM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.