NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Extremist from Somalia killed 36 quarry workers in northern Kenya early Tuesday, targeting non-Muslims just like an attack 10 days ago on bus passengers.
The killings happened in Mandera County near the border with Somalia and the attackers escaped, said Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo.
The group al-Shabab, which has been battling for years to establish hard-line Islamic rule in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the killings.
Peter Nderitu, who works at the quarry, said a group of about 50 heavily armed people walked into their camp next to the quarry at 12.30am as the men were sleeping and fired warning shots.
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.
Then gunshots followed. He said he rose from hiding two hours later when he was sure there was no more movement.
He said the bodies of his colleagues were in two rows and that nearly all had been shot in the back of the head.
Presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu put the number of attackers at around 20 gunmen.
He said the camp was in the Koromey area on the outskirts of Mandera town. The gunmen singled out non-Muslims and killed them, said the police.
Al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage 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 airstrike. Al-Shabab claimed the airstrike killed innocent people and destroyed their property.
The Kenyan government said the airstrike was in response to a Nov 22 al-Shabab attack on bus passengers in Mandera County that left 28 people dead.
In that attack, the non-Muslims were also separated from other passengers and shot dead.
About 100 non-Muslims this week sought refuge at the army base in Mandera, demanding that the government evacuate them.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s chief of staff, Joseph Kinyua, attempted to persuade non-Muslim from leaving Mandera County, whose population is predominantly Kenyan Muslims of Somali origin.