Al Shabab kills at least 14 in attack in northeast Kenya

The violence precedes US President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to the country in a few weeks. 

A Kenyan army officer washes his hands after carrying a dead body, in Mandera, Kenya, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. At least 14 people were killed in an attack early Tuesday in the country's north by al-Shabab, Islamic extremist rebels from neighboring Somalia, a Kenyan official said.

Somalia-based militant group Al Shabab claimed responsibility Tuesday for an attack in northeastern Kenya’s Mandera County that killed at least 14 people and injured 11 others, CNN reports.

The attack was focused on a compound housing quarry workers. Most of those killed were local laborers and workers from other parts of Kenya.

The violence precedes US President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to the country in a few weeks.

Mandera County Comissioner Alex Nyoko told CNN the attack began around 1 a.m. He said an explosive device was used to blow open a gate to the compound, after which the attackers entered and started shooting.

Judging by the number of shots fired at the site, Nyoko said he estimates that there were 10 to 15 assailants.

Local security forces responded within 10 minutes but as their vehicles approached, the attackers fled, according to Nyoko. He also said that he suspects that some of the attackers crossed the border into Somalia.

Al Shabab’s military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab, said Tuesday’s attack had killed more than a dozen people, whom he described as Kenyan Christians. The group is known to target non-Muslims.

In 2013, Shabab killed 68 people in an attack on Nairobi's upscale Westgate shopping mall. The BBC reported that the militants spared Muslims while killing those unable to recite verses from the Koran.

Al Shabab is also notorious for its shooting rampage in a Kenyan university that left 148 students and security dead in April.

Since 2013, Al Shabab has attacked Kenya 63 times, according to data released in late April from the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Slightly more than half of the 63 attacks in Kenya occurred in just Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera counties. Most of the rest occurred on the coast.

Stringent security measures had already been enforced in Mandera since last year's attacks by Al Shabab that resulted in a combined total of more than 60 casualties, Nyoko told CNN.

The attacks have prompted many Kenyans to question their question their country’s military involvement in Somalia, noted The Christian Science Monitor's  Paula Rogo. 

Al Shabab is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters. They fight for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

They dominate in many rural areas of Somalia but have lost control of most towns and cities. Unlike the predominantly Sufi Somali population, they advocate the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam.

Al Shabab’s activities are mainly focused within Somalia, but they have also launched attacks in Uganda and Kenya.

Fear has been expressed by some in Washington that the group, which has successfully recruited members of the Somalian diaspora in the United States, may strike US soil, but terrorism experts have argued that the group's reach is limited to East Africa.

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