MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Dozens of suspected Somali al Shabaab fighters swept into a Kenyan village and lectured locals for at least two hours before disappearing into a nearby forest without attacking anyone, police and residents said on Sunday.
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab has made a series of deadly raids in Kenya since Kenyan troops first entered Somalia to fight them in 2011. It has said it will continue until Nairobi withdraws the troops, now part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Residents of Basuba village in the coastal region of Lamu said the militants, numbering over 50, warned them against boarding any police or military vehicles because they targeted them for attacks.
“They had their faces masked and wore jungle attire. They told us if we boarded those vehicles we would die with the officers,” one resident told Reuters.
The villager said among the militants were two men and two women who appeared to be of Caucasian origin. They arrived at 5 a.m. on Saturday.
“They also warned that if we told police about their presence and visit, they would come back and deal with us,” said the witness, adding that a few locals had already left the area out of fear.
A second resident said: “They said they didn’t want to hurt us and that their war was with the military and police in Lamu and not us.”
Chrispus Mutali, Lamu County Administration police commander, said: “We are hearing about that al Shabaab visit in Basuba but we cannot confirm anything for now until we get clear information from officers on the ground.”
Al Shabaab aims to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government and impose its own strict version of Islamic law.
In June 2014, the group killed 65 people in Lamu County in back-to-back assaults over a 24-hour period. It was also behind a raid on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in 2013 that killed 67.
In its worst attack in Kenya, its gunmen killed 148 people at a university in April.