Kenya’s military fought a clash with al Shabaab fighters in southern Somalia and Kenyan police said they had placed several people under surveillance to prevent attacks at home linked to the Somali insurgents.
The Kenyan military said one of its soldiers and six al Shabaab fighters had been killed in the clash between the Somali towns of Tabda and Qoqani. Al Shabaab said none of its fighters and six Kenyan soldiers had died.
Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia in October after a wave of kidnappings and cross-border raids which Nairobi blamed on the Islamist rebels, who control large swathes of southern Somalia and are battling a weak Western-backed government.
Al Shabaab fighters have denied responsibility for the kidnappings and threatened retaliatory attacks on Kenyans in response to the cross-border conflict.
Kenyan army spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir said Tuesday’s fighting took place in the morning while soldiers were on patrol.
« During the engagement, six al Shabaab militants were killed while others escaped with injuries and are likely to seek medical attention at nearby refugee camps, » Chirchir said in a statement.
« Administrators of medical facilities and locals along the border are requested to report any suspicious persons with bullet wounds. »
Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab fighters told Reuters they suffered no casualties and killed nine soldiers using landmines, rocket propelled grenades and gunfire against a convoy of trucks.
A soldier for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government confirmed the incident, but could not give more details on the casualties.
« Fighting lasted 40 minutes. There are casualties and damage but we have no exact figures so far. Somali government forces were not with the Kenyan convoy, » Abdirisak Abdi Yusuf told Reuters by phone from Dhobley, a town near the Kenya border.
Al Shabaab has waged a bloody five-year campaign to drive the largely impotent government from power. In August it left most of its bases in the capital Mogadishu, where it continues to launch guerilla-style attacks.
The festering instability across much of the Horn of Africa country presents a major obstacle to the interim government tasked with holding elections and adopting a new constitution by August next year.
Since Kenyan troops crossed into Somalia, Kenyan security agencies have been on high alert for attacks. They suspect al Shabaab rebels have been behind a string of deadly strikes in the border region.
Several on surveillance
On Saturday, Britain said it believed militants were completing plans to launch attacks in Kenya, possibly targeting places frequented by expatriates and tourists.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Kenyan authorities had put several people on surveillance across the country, saying some had the potential to plan and carry out attacks.
« We have received reports that members of al Shabaab have left (southern Somalia port) Kismayu for Nairobi, but at this point, we have several characters under surveillance whom we think have connections to al Shabaab, » he told a news conference in Nairobi.
« We do not believe that more than 10 people are potentially lethal and all those … are equally under surveillance, » he said without giving more details.
Late on Monday, security agents arrested two suspects accused of links to a wave of grenade, landmine and gun attacks in Garissa, capital of Kenya’s North Eastern Province which borders Somalia.
North Eastern police commander Leo Nyongesa said the two, among them a former police officer, were arrested with manuals on how to assemble and use explosives.
« Two men, Kenyans have been arrested, they are in our custody being interrogated to gather more information, we expect to make more arrests, » said Nyongesa.