NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Dozens of extremists wielding automatic weapons attacked a small Kenyan coastal town for hours, assaulting the police station, setting two hotels on fire, and spraying bullets into the street. At least 48 people were killed, officials said Monday.
The assault in Mpeketoni began around 8 p.m. local time on Sunday night as residents were watching World Cup matches on TV and lasted until early Monday, meeting little resistance from Kenya’s security forces.
At the Breeze View Hotel, the gunmen pulled the men aside and ordered the women to watch as they killed them, saying it was what Kenyan troops are doing to Somali men inside Somalia, a police commander said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share that detail of the attack.
Authorities blamed al-Shabab, Somalia’s al-Qaida-linked terror group, who have vowed to carry out terror attacks to avenge the Kenyan military presence in Somali. Along with its Somali fighters, the group also has many Kenyan adherents.
Kenya’s top police commander, David Kimaiyo, said the death toll was 48.
A police spokeswoman said authorities believe that several dozen attackers took part.
Mpeketoni is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of the tourist center of Lamu. Any tourism in Mpeketoni is mostly local, with few foreigners visiting the region. The town is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Somali border. Mpeketoni is about 360 miles (600 kilometers) from the capital, Nairobi.
Kenya has experienced a wave of gunfire and explosive attacks in recent months. The U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Canada have all recently upgraded their terror threat warnings for the country. U.S. Marines behind sandbag bunkers are now stationed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
The Interior Ministry said that at about 8 p.m. Sunday two minivans entered the town. Militants disembarked and began shooting. Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Center said military surveillance planes were launched shortly afterward.
The nearby town of Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the country’s oldest continually inhabited town. The region saw a spate of kidnappings of foreign tourists in 2011 that Kenya said was part of its motivation for attacking Somalia. Since those attacks and subsequent terror warnings tourism has dropped off sharply around Lamu.
At least 67 people were killed in September when four al-Shabab gunmen attacked an upscale mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Kenya sent it troops to Somalia in October 2011.