MOMBASA Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan police arrested eight suspects on Monday in connection with an attack in the port city of Mombasa at the weekend that killed four people, a senior police officer said.
Witnesses said gunmen went on a shooting rampage and scattered leaflets saying the attack was retribution for last month’s raid on Mpeketoni, a town about 300 km (180 miles) north of Mombasa along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline.
There have been a string of attacks along Kenya’s coast, most of them claimed by the Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, such as the Mpeketoni raid in mid-June. Analysts say a mix of local grievances and Islamist militancy have fuelled violence.
“We launched a manhunt for the suspects involved, because we had some information about them, and we have so far managed to arrest eight and are closing up on more,” Robert Kitur, Mombasa County Police Commander, told journalists.
He blamed the suspects for scattering the leaflets but dismissed the idea that the assault was a revenge attack, saying it was aimed at showing discord on the already volatile coast.
Al Shabaab said its attacks on the coast were revenge for Kenya’s deployment of troops with other African Union troops to Somalia. The Kenyan government dismissed the claims of responsibility and blamed local political networks instead for the violence.
The Mpeketoni attacks, which killed 65 people, and others on the coast have stoked tensions between rival ethnic groups in a region which has been plagued by disputes over land ownership and complaints that central government has ignored problems.
Analysts say Islamists may have exploited those grievances to stir up trouble in a country where ethnic loyalties and political allegiances tend to run in tandem.
Highlighting the challenge of securing the coast, police said they had arrested a suspected militant in Kwale, south of Mombasa, with a grenade and 78 rounds of ammunition. Police said an accomplice they had also been trailing escaped.
Kenyan police imposed a curfew from Sunday evening on Lamu County, the region north of Mombasa where most of the recent spate of attacks took place, including Mpeketoni.
Residents were told to be indoors between 6.30 p.m. and 6.30 a.m. but this was amended on Monday to allow Muslims to continue their usual prayer schedule after sunset in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Many of Kenya’s Muslims live on the coast.
Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Tom Heneghan