Gunmen believed to be Somali pirates staged a daring night attack on a fishing village near Malindi and abducted six fishermen.
The raiders, who struck at Ngomeni village, 40 kilometres North East of Malindi town, were said to have used a boat loaded with grenades, guns and two special ladders for boarding ships.
The attack comes more than a month after Kenya sent troops inside Somalia to crush Al-Shabaab militants who have been accused of either carrying out abductions or protecting the pirates who do so.
Kenyan naval and land forces appear to have suppressed the operations of pirates particularly in southern Somalia.
Security agencies were immediately deployed to Ngomeni to pursue the pirates but the fact that the pirates were able to evade security and come that far down the coast has angered local leaders.
Area MP Amason Kingi, the Fisheries Development minister, challenged his Defence and Internal Security counterparts to beef up security.
“I am shocked by this incident. Where are the special forces? Where is our Navy if a speed boat loaded with such arsenal could sail all the way from Somalia to mainland Ngomeni to kidnap innocent fishermen?” asked the minister. The area is served by two police boats.
Magarini DC Richard Karani said when the administration got information about the attack, one of the police boats had a mechanical problem while the other was patrolling off Watamu beach line.
“That is why we could not respond very swiftly,” he said.
He added that security forces will be deployed to all tourist hotels in the area.
Residents said the pirates arrived at Ngomeni at 8pm on Saturday in a speed boat.
They attacked the fishermen as they prepared to leave for a night fishing expedition.
“They arrived dramatically and before anybody realised what was happening, they had hurled six fishermen into their boat at gun point and fled,” said Mr Omar Mshamu, a resident and chairman of the Coast Beach Management Units in the area.
DC Karani said the bandits forced the fishermen to take them to Che Shale brach hotel, further north, with the aim of kidnapping tourists.
“When they reached Che Shale and attempted to enter the compound, they were confronted by watchmen and started firing in the air sending guests and workers scampering for cover,” Mr Mshamu said.
In the confusion, the captain of the fishermen, Mr Abdalla Twalib, escaped.
“They thought Mr Twalib had raised the alarm and fled,” said Mshamu. They later dumped their five captives at sea.
The fishermen swam back to Che Shale Island where they arrived at 2am. They were picked up and taken to Malindi Police Station for interrogation.
On Sunday, there were reports that Ethiopia, which also faces a threat from the militants, had sent troops across the border into Somalia to fight Al-Shabaab.
In central Somalia, meanwhile, residents said on Saturday, they had seen Ethiopian troops, in convoys of armoured vehicles crossing the border in Balanbale district.
And in Mandera, which borders both Somalia and Ethiopia, residents said they saw a convoy of trucks and armoured vehicles pass through the town before entering Somalia.
It could not be immediately confirmed whether the Ethiopians were part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, Amisom, that comprise of Uganda and Burundi, or they had entered into a separate arrangement with Kenya.
Kenya has in the recent past been on a diplomatic offensive seeking support for the Somali operation against Al-Shabaab.
This is the second time Ethiopia is deploying troops in Somalia. In 2006, Addis Ababa, with the support of the US, helped to oust the Islamic Courts Union before withdrawing in 2009.
The militants have warned Ethiopia that they would “break the necks” of their troops inside Somalia.
“Soldiers of our enemy, the black colonialists of Ethiopia, made some movements into our region on Saturday, but they do not scare us,” said Sheikh Yusuf Ali Ugas, the insurgent group’s commander for the Hiran region.
“We will break the necks of the invaders... Our troops are ready for anything, if the Ethiopian enemy tries to attack us,” Ugas added, speaking on the group’s radio Al Andalus.
In Mogadishu, Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, the spokesman of the peacekeepers serving with Amisom, told the local media that attempts by Al-Shabaab to recapture Mogadishu were repelled.
Lt. Col. Ankunda said the last attempt was an attack on Karaan district in North Mogadishu on Friday night.
“Their (Al-Shabaab fighters) aim was to seize positions they lost in Karaan district,” said the Amisom spokesman.
On Wednesday, Presidents Kibaki, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed (Somalia) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) held a closed-door meeting in Nairobi and reaffirmed their commitment to military operations against Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Additional reporting by Agencies