Lamu attack ‘coordinated by sleeper terror cell’ in Coast Region
By MURIMI MUTIGA & SOPHIE NJOKA
Investigations into Thursday's deadly ambush on a convoy of passenger vehicles by suspected Al Shabaab militants at Nyongoro area in Lamu County, reveal that the attack was coordinated by a sleeper terror cell operating in Coast region.
This follows arrest of two suspects who were among three travelling on the Mombasa Raha and Simba Coach buses that were attacked in the 10.40am incident which left three people dead and several others nursing injuries
The two, who at the time of the incident were armed with pistols, are being detained in one of the police stations in the area. They had boarded Mombasa Raha Bus at Bondeni area in Mombasa.
Detectives interrogating the suspects say the attackers were in frequent mobile phone communication with the militants who lay in wait inside Boni Forest.
According to a senior police officer from Coast region who spoke in confidence, the five suspects left Boni Forest on December 28 and stayed in Mombasa for two days.
"They booked their travel tickets in Mombasa two days before the date of the journey and boarded the two separate buses at around 6.30am. All along, they were in communication amongst themselves and with the militants," said the police officer.
The officer said the other group of three boarded Simba Coach Bus on the same day in Mombasa headed to Lamu and were among people who were spared death by the militants under the "guise of their faith."
"The militants knew them and that is why they decided to separate them from the rest using their faith. This was a tactical way of avoiding suspicion from other people who were in the buses," the officer said.
The five suspects are reported to have escaped from the scene together with other passengers as the militants were engaging military officers who had come to rescue the passengers.
Police say they believe one of the pistols in the possession of the suspects was used to shoot the conductor of the Simba Coach Bus.
"We arrested them at Witu, they have not been able to explain the circumstances under which they were armed, who they are and where are their gun licences," he said.
"Further, we believe these two have some connection with Kassim Ahmed Ali, the suspected terrorist who killed chief Mohamed Haji Famau and his assistant Malik Athman Shee on December 11 at Mbwajumwali Village," said the police officer.
Dozens of armed military personnel are still patrolling the road from Witu to Mokowe in an effort to pacify the area after the Thursday attack which left three people dead and several others nursing injuries.
Coast Regional Coordinator John Elungata said the military and the police are undertaking a joint security operation to flush out the attackers.
Elungata, who visited the scene of attack in Witu and Mpeketoni, said police escort has been reinforced with additional security personnel and armed carriers behind the convoy of vehicles headed to and from Lamu.
"We want to assure people who are using this road that security has been beefed up and all is well. They can continue with their journey. We are providing security to all motorists on the road," he added.
Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia said on Thursday that gunmen fired at a convoy of three buses and two vans that were being escorted by police to Lamu.
He said the extremists opened fire at passengers fleeing on foot into the bushes.
Police escorts for passenger vehicles in the area became mandatory after 2014 when Al-Shabaab killed nearly 90 people in two attacks.
In recent weeks, Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants have stepped up attacks in boarder counties of Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and Lamu.