Kenyan military says it launches strikes against al Shabaab forest base

MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenya’s military said on Monday it had launched air strikes on the forest hideout of Somali Islamists blamed for deadly attacks on civilians and security personnel.

Heavily-armed attackers have in the past two weeks beheaded nine civilian men and killed three police officers in coastal Lamu district, which borders Somalia. Al Shabaab Islamists claimed responsibility for the police killings.

Kenyan police say the militants have used Boni forest as a base for attacks in the region.

“A serious operation has started in Boni forest. We are flushing them out of the forest,” Nelson Marwa, Coast region coordinator, told journalists in the port city of Mombasa.

“We will do all it takes to secure the forest and we are urging the neighboring communities to stay away to avoid any injuries.”

An armed group, many of whom appeared to be ethnic Somalis, attacked two villages on Friday night, going from house to house and seizing non-Muslim men, whom they later beheaded.

The government on Saturday imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for three months in Lamu and two other neighboring counties.

Al Shabaab is fighting to overthrow Somalia’s western-backed government and establish its own rule, based on the group’s strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.

The Islamists frequently launch attacks on Kenyan soil which they say are intended to force the country to withdraw its troops from Somalia.

Kenyan troops form part of the African Union-mandated AMISOM peacekeeping force defending Somalia’s central government against al Shabaab.

Editing by Elias Biryabarema and Andrew Roche