Kenya’s president has announced a security shake-up in the wake of attacks by Islamic extremists from neighbouring Somalia.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has sacked his interior minister and accepted the resignation of the national police chief.
He has also named an opposition politician and retired army general, Joseph Nkaissery, to be the new interior minister, in charge of security. Police chief David Kimaiyo said he resigned for personal reasons.
Public pressure had been mounting for the two officials to be replaced following extremist attacks.
Islamic extremists from Somalia killed 36 quarry workers in northern Kenya earlier yesterday, targeting non-Muslims. The attack was similar to another one ten days ago on bus passengers. The killings happened in Mandera County near the border with Somalia and the attackers escaped.
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The group al-Shabaab – which has been battling for years to establish hardline Islamic rule in Somalia – claimed responsibility for the killings.
A group of about 50 extremists walked into the camp next to the quarry at 12:30am as the workers were sleeping and fired warning shots, said Peter Nderitu, who works at the quarry.
Mr Nderitu said when he heard the shooting he ran and hid in a trench from where he could hear his colleagues being asked to recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed declaring oneness with God. Gunshots followed.
He moved from his hiding place two hours later when he was sure there was no more movement, he said. The bodies of his colleagues were in two rows and nearly all of them had been shot in the back of the head.
The gunmen singled out non-Muslims and killed them, police said. The quarry camp is in the Koromey area on the outskirts of Mandera town, said a presidential spokesman.
An Al-Shabaab spokesman said the latest attack was a response to Kenya’s troop presence in Somalia and alleged atrocities committed by the Kenyan army there, such as a recent air strike.
Al-Shabaab claimed the air strike killed innocent people and destroyed their property. The Kenyan government said the air strike was in response to an al-Shabaab attack on bus passengers in Mandera County on 22 November that left 28 people dead. Again the non-Muslims were separated from other passengers and shot dead.
About 100 non-Muslims last week sought refuge at the army base in Mandera, demanding the government evacuate them.
Mr Kenyatta’s chief of staff, Joseph Kinyua, attempted to persuade non-Muslims from leaving Mandera County, whose population is predominantly Kenyan Muslims of Somali origin. Those who wanted to be evacuated argued that they cannot stay because the governor himself is not safe. Mandera governor Ali Roba survived an improvised explosive device attack on his vehicle on 15 October.
The quarry attack came hours after a hotel in Wajir, also in northern Kenya, was hit by a grenade and gunfire, killing one person and wounding 13, said police.
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