NAIROBI – Five police officers were killed Thursday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Kenya in an attack claimed by al-Shabab Islamists a day after nine police died in similar blasts.
The officers had been deployed to the restive northeastern region to take part in an operation against the Somali-led militants after two separate roadside bombs on Wednesday.
“The five police officers killed in the attack were headed to boost the ongoing operation in Liboi,” said North Eastern regional coordinator Mohamud Ali Saleh, referring to a town on the border with Somalia.
The Kenya Red Cross said the latest attack occurred between Malelei and Kulan in Garissa county when a vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED).
The blast flipped over the green police pickup and tore its rear end off.
Al-Shabab, a Somali-led jihadi group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack — as well as for the previous two — in a statement carried by the SITE Intelligence Group.
On Wednesday morning four police officers were killed when their vehicle drove over a roadside bomb near the Liboi border post.
Three were killed instantly and a fourth died of his injuries later, according to a police report seen Thursday by AFP that revised the initial toll of three.
Later in the day a convoy accompanying a local governor was struck, killing five officers including his bodyguard.
Earlier this week Kenyan police issued a statement warning of increased militant activity in the area, specifically mentioning the threat of IEDs.
On Thursday, Inspector General Joseph Boinnet of the Kenyan police said “several terror suspects” had been arrested in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties over the past two days, including one it identified as a “high-ranking al-Shabab explosives expert” named Ahmed Abdi Yare.
Weapons and material for making IEDs were also recovered, Boinnet said.
He warned that more attacks were likely during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.
The Kenyan government has yet to comment on the upsurge in attacks in the region bordering Somalia.
On May 16, four people were killed near Liboi when their car hit an IED.
Several other incidents took place last week in Mandera county when suspected Shabab fighters attacked a village, killed a traditional chief and kidnapped two police reservists, according to local police.
In October 2016, the government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Mandera after Shabab fighters killed 12 people at a hotel. The authorities also stepped up security in the region, with the curfew extended in April.
Since 2007, al-Shabab has fought to overthrow successive internationally-backed governments in Somalia but began attacking Kenya in 2011 after Nairobi ordered its troops into Somalia to fight the militants.
Kenyan soldiers are now part of a 22,000-member African Union mission fighting in Somalia.
In 2013, al-Shabab gunmen raided a shopping mall in the capital Nairobi killing 67 people, and in 2015 a similar attack on a university in Garissa left 148 dead.