Suspected al Shabaab militants kill at least 12 in northern Kenya ambush

ISIOLO, Kenya Mon May 19, 2014 4:46pm EDT

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ISIOLO, Kenya (Reuters) - Suspected Somali al Shabaab militants killed at least 12 people in an ambush in northern Kenya on Monday, a day after Kenyan jets pounded the Islamists' bases over the border, disaster and police officials said.

The east African nation, which sent its troops into Somalia in October 2011 to pursue the militants, has suffered a string of gun, bomb and grenade attacks that it blames on al Shabaab, including an attack in the capital Nairobi on Friday.

Britain, the United States and other Western governments have warned holidaymakers against visiting Kenya.

"Twelve individuals, among them three police reservists killed in Mandera County in an ambush by suspected al Shabaab militia on Monday afternoon," the government-run National Disaster Operations Centre said on its Twitter feed.

It said two police vehicles had been destroyed. Reservists work alongside the police, and are not usually in official uniform but sometimes wear camouflage jackets.

Mandera County, near the border with Ethiopia and Somalia, has seen a marked escalation in tension, with low-key clan clashes displacing hundreds of people in the past year.

The region is awash with guns due to its proximity to Somalia, where al Shabaab has been fighting to topple the government, and Ethiopia, where the armed Oromo Liberation Front has made incursions into the country.

The NDOC was not immediately available for further comment about how the ambush happened or who else had been killed.

Noah Mwivanda, Mandera County police commander, said police were searching for another seven people "missing in action" and that the attackers had also set fire to a van transporting qat, a plant chewed as a stimulant.

"Two regular police, three reservists and two civilians are missing in action, an operation is being conducted to find them. They are either dead, abducted or missing," Mwivanda told Reuters.

On Sunday, Kenyan military officials said its warplanes hit an explosives-making compound at Jilib, some 300 km southwest of Mogadishu, two days after explosions at a market in Nairobi left at least 12 people dead.

Al Shabaab killed at least 67 people in a gun and grenade raid on a Nairobi shopping mall last September, claiming it as revenge for attacks on its fighters by Kenyan troops in Somalia.

(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Writing by James Macharia and George Obulutsa; Editing by Alison Williams)

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