Scores of Al-Shabaab terrorists suspected to have been injured during last week’s dawn attack at Pandanguo police post in Lamu could be receiving treatment inside Boni Forest, locals claim.
Locals on Sunday reported seeing blood-soaked bandages, gloves and blood stains on some of the paths used by the escaping terrorists after they attacked the police post.
During the attack, three police officers were killed and a communication mast destroyed.
A local who requested anonymity said: “We have spotted so many blood-stained materials on some of the routes they used to flee after attacking the police post. We suspected they sustained injuries.”
The residents also expressed anger and frustration over what they termed inability by the military and police to tame the heavily armed terrorists freely roaming the expansive forest.
Residents questioned why KDF and police have not dealt with the more than 200 gunmen they claimed have now taken control of the forest since 2012.
“The soldiers are not moving even five kilometres from Jima. We are wondering why. We see them almost every day, especially in the evening,” another resident said.
He added: “The gunmen have completely taken control of the forest, raiding our villages and threatening us that we should choose between working for them or security agencies.”
The villagers said the gunmen use different routes around the forest, including one for accessing Bale Sange dam to fetch water and return to their hideouts.
“They have caused us untold suffering. We can’t go to our farms [out] of fear.
"They are having a field day inside the forest without any fear of the soldiers and the police,” a local said.
“They told my brother who came face to face with them that they don’t want to see non-Muslims and security installations in this area,” another local said.
According to the residents, the attackers operate in groups of between 20 to 30, mostly speaking Swahili, Kenyan tribes’ dialects and Somali.
They also claimed that there were a few Caucasian men among the terrorists.
“The white men mostly speak Arabic but they have features of either European, Arabs or Asians.
"Several people who bumped into the group also said there were many Kenyan men, mostly young,” another local said.
Kenyan and western intelligence agencies have identified the Boni Forest militants as members of Jeysh Ayman fighters formed by an Al-Shabaab elite group to engage Kenyan security forces within the country after Kenya deployed its soldiers inside Somalia.
Reports of foreigners and Kenyans being among the militants emerged in June 2015 after Briton Thomas Evans, 25, was killed alongside 10 other attackers after a dawn raid on Baure KDF camp.
Just as Boko Haram has made Sambisa Forest in Nigeria a sanctuary beyond the reach of security forces, the terrorists have made Boni Forest their home.
The forest has scattered thorn bushes, indigenous open canopy trees, acacia woodland, marshy glades and abundant water.
Soldiers are finding it hard to fight the militants inside the forest, presumably due to large parts of it being only accessible by foot, denying them the advantage of armoured support, while the foliage provides cover against aerial surveillance and attacks.
“The forest is soggy and unless our soldiers and police track them on foot, they cannot manage to tame them,” a local said.
A senior security officer, who requested not to be named to avoid compromising investigations, said the forest serves as a training ground for the terror cell’s members, who are also able to sneak back into Somalia during the dry season and return when it rains.
Meanwhile, the fate of learning for over 600 pupils in Witu Division, Lamu West, is unknown after three primary schools remained closed for the past one week over fears of attacks by Al-Shabaab terrorists.
Pandanguo, Kakathe and Maleli primary schools have been shut due to the tension in the area after over 200 Al-Shabaab terrorists attacked a police station in Pandanguo on Wednesday last week and killed four officers.
Addressing journalists in Witu on Sunday, the education officer for the area, Mr James Akello, said the three schools were closed soon after the attack on the police station.
Pandanguo Primary School has a total of 277 pupils, including those at the ECDE level; Kakathe Primary School, 220, and Maleli Primary School, 176.
Mr Akello said his office had to immediately withdraw the more than 20 teachers who were serving in the schools over security concerns.
He added that they would be posted back once the area is safe.
He said he expects the schools to be reopened next week as some security measures had been put in place.
Pandanguo Primary School head teacher Athman Hussein said pupils and staff would not resume lessons until they are guaranteed of their safety.
Parents interviewed by the Nation also expressed concern over the safety of their children in the schools and constant disruption of learning due to Al-Shabaab raids in various parts of Lamu.