MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Two blasts in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa and a nearby town killed one person and wounded more than 20 on Saturday, the latest in a string of attacks to hit the east African country since it sent troops into neighboring Somalia.
Up until now, attacks had centered on the capital, Nairobi, and near the border with Somalia following its deployment of troops last October. Saturday’s blasts were the first in Mombasa, a popular holiday destination with locals and foreigners, since Kenya began its mission to fight Islamist rebels north of the border.
“This evening, between 7.30 and 8.00, there were two explosive devices, which were simultaneously thrown at two different places,” Ernest Munyi, provincial commissioner for the coastal region, told Reuters.
“We are trying to find out exactly what type of explosives these were,” he said.
He said one person died in an attack on an open air, roadside Christian meeting in Mtwapa, a town north of Mombasa renowned for its nightlife.
“A van came and stopped ... then we heard the explosion. Some lay on the ground, while others started to run,” said Davidson Kahindi, a worshipper who was injured in the ear.
A Reuters reporter at the scene saw blood splattered on the roadside, abandoned bibles and discarded clothes. Police with sniffer dogs combed the scene.
The Kenya Red Cross confirmed one person was killed in the Mtwapa attack. It said 24 people had been admitted to hospital, of whom two were in critical condition.
The second explosion was at a bar near Mombasa’s main stadium, Commissioner Munyi said.
The government has blamed previous attacks on Somali-based rebels al Shabaab, which formally merged with al Qaeda this year, but Munyi said it was too early to say who was behind the two blasts.
The attacks come at a bad time for Kenya, just as it gears up for the Easter tourist season. The country is already forecasting earnings from tourism - one of its big three hard currency sources - will fall this year, in part because of travel warnings over the threat from Somali militants.
Two separate attacks on Western tourists in northern resorts and Kenya’s involvement in Somalia have already hurt business.
TPS Eastern Africa, which operates a chain of luxury hotels, lodges and tented camps, said its earnings were hit by security alerts issued by countries from where holidaymakers originated, during the last three months of 2011.
Earlier this month, Kenyan police arrested four people after a grenade attack at a crowded Nairobi bus station that killed nine and wounded 40, an attack it blamed on the Somali Islamist militants. It later released them on a conditional bond pending further investigations.
Al Shabaab, which has declared war against Kenya, denied it was responsible for the bus station attack.
That incident was similar to two attacks at another bus station and a bar in Nairobi that killed one person and wounded more than 20 last October, days after Kenya first sent troops into Somalia.
Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Noor Ali in Isiolo and Reuters TV; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by David Clarke and Ben Harding