Somali militants who murdered 48 people in a Kenyan village as they watched the World Cup went door to door asking residents if they were Muslim or spoke Somali - and shot them dead if either answer was 'no', witnesses revealed today.
The attack on the coastal village of Mpeketoni, about 30-miles southwest of the tourist centre of Lamu, came at the end of a weekend of bloodshed that has exposed the world to the shocking depravity of terrorists, apparently emboldened by each other's acts.
Witnesses told how about 30 gunmen - believed to be members of Somali terror group al-Shabaab - arrived in the town in minibuses at 8pm yesterday before bursting into residents homes, shooting dead any man they thought was not Muslim.
'They came to our house at around 8pm and asked us in Swahili whether we were Muslims,' said Anne Gathigi. 'My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him in the head and chest.'
Another resident, John Waweru, said his two brothers were killed because the attackers did not like that the brothers did not speak Somali.
'My brothers who stay next door to me were killed as I watched. I was peeping from my window and I clearly heard them speak to my brothers in Somali and it seems since my brothers did not meet their expectations, they sprayed them with bullets and moved on,' said Waweru.
In Kenya, dozens of extremists attacked a Kenyan coastal town for hours, killing those who weren't Muslim and those who didn't know the Somali language, officials and witnesses said today. At least 48 people were killed and two hotels were set on fire.
The assault in Mpeketoni began on Sunday night as residents watched World Cup matches on TV and lasted until early on Monday morning, with little resistance put up by Kenya's security forces. Cars and buildings still smoldered at daybreak.
Authorities blamed al-Shabaab, Somalia's al-Qaida-linked terror group, who have vowed to carry out terror attacks to avenge the Kenyan military presence in Somali. Along with its Somali fighters, the group also has many Kenyan adherents. By midday Monday the group had not claimed responsibility.
Like the gunmen who attacked Nairobi's Westgate Mall last year, the Mpeketoni attackers gave life-or-death religious assessment, a witness said, killing those who were not Muslim.
At the Breeze View Hotel, the gunmen pulled the men aside and ordered the women to watch as they killed them, saying it was what Kenyan troops are doing to Somali men inside Somalia, a police commander said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share such details of the attack.
Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said the attackers fled into the nearby wilds, known as the Boni Forest after a 'fierce exchange of fire' with security forces.
He said 20 vehicles had been set on fire.
At a news conference, Ole Lenku was forced to defend the government's security record after a string of attacks. He also warned opposition politicians against inciting violence, saying it was possible the attack was linked to politics. The claim was immediately dismissed by security experts who are now a staple of Kenyan news shows.
Mpeketoni is about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of the tourist center of Lamu. Any tourism in Mpeketoni is mostly local, with few foreigners visiting the area. The town is 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Somali border and 360 miles (600 kilometers) from the capital, Nairobi.
Kenya has experienced a wave of gunfire and explosive attacks in recent months. The U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and Canada have all recently upgraded their terror threat warnings for the country. U.S. Marines behind sandbag bunkers are now stationed on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
The Interior Ministry said that at about 8 p.m. on Sunday, two minivans entered the town. Militants disembarked and began shooting. Kenya's National Disaster Operations Center said military surveillance planes were launched shortly afterward.
Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the country's oldest continually inhabited town. The region saw a spate of kidnappings of foreign tourists in 2011 that Kenya said was part of its motivation for attacking al-Shabaab in Somalia. Since those attacks and subsequent terror warnings, tourism has dropped off sharply around Lamu.
At least 67 people were killed in September when four al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an upscale mall in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Kenya sent its troops to Somalia in October 2011.
The attack was the latest in a string of bloodthirsty atrocities that took place over the weekend, spanning two continents from Kenya to Iraq and raising the spectre of a new era of barbaric terror that is sweeping the globe.
In the space of just three days:
- Images of Iraqi men being rounded up at gunpoint, beaten, herded like cattle into lorries and shot dead in a ditch by a row of masked ISIS fanatics sent shockwaves across the world.
- Taliban insurgents sliced off the fingers of 11 people as punishment for voting in Afghanistan’s democratic presidential election while 60 people were killed in a series of rocket barrages and scattered attacks
- The desperate search continued for three Israeli teenagers allegedly kidnapped by Hamas militants as more than 150 suspects were arrested in relation to the abduction.
- Nigeria's former president admitted that the 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants two months ago may never be found.
- Pakistani jets killed 37 militants in retaliatory airstrikes today, a week after Taliban insurgents stormed Karachi airport and opened fire in a commando-style attack that left 38 people dead.
Over the past month, the world's media has been awash with gruesome images depicting insurgent barbarism whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Palestine or Syria.
The terror groups behind these acts appear to relish their growing publicity, increasingly courting online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to promote their hate-filled agendas of murder and oppression.
Professor Lee Marsden, international terrorism expert and head of East Anglia University's School of Political, Social and International Studies, said: 'Images of brutality perpetrated by these terrorist groups are being circulated around the world on an unprecedented scale.
'While the levels of brutality seen here by ISIS and al-Shabaab are no different from what we have seen them do before, the way they are publicising their acts of terror is wholly new.
'Through the use of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, such groups are seeking to maximise coverage of their atrocities with great effect.
Terrorists are using the internet to peddle their hate on an unprecedented scale - because it's quick, easy and free to use.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media have provided Islamic groups with a global reach, bolstering their propaganda, radicalization and recruitment, say experts.
Twitter, for example, hosts a number of official feeds for terrorist groups, including Somalia's al-Shabaab, the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra, the Taliban, Hamas and ISIS.
Terror expert Gabriel Weimann of the Woodrow Wilson Center, SAYS the reason they have turned to social media is no different than the rest of us - it's a quick, easy and, above all, free form of anonymous communication.
'Terrorists have good reasons to use social media,' says Weimann, who has studied the online behaviour of terrorists for years and last month published a report entitled, 'New Terrorism and New Media'.
'First, these channels are by far the most popular with their intended audience, which allows terrorist organizations to be part of the mainstream.
'Second, social media channels are user-friendly, reliable, and free.
'Finally, social networking allows terrorists to reach out to their target audiences and virtually “knock on their doors” — in contrast to older models of websites in which terrorists had to wait for visitors to come to them.'
Weimann explains that terrorists are using most of the major social media platforms to recruit militant Islamists. In his report, he quotes a jihadi online web forum explaining: 'Facebook is a great idea, and better than the forums. Instead of waiting for people to [come to you so you can] inform them, you go to them and teach them!... if you have a group of 5,000 people, with the press of a button you [can] send them a standardized message.'
He notes that while YouTube 'has become a significant platform for jihadist groups and supporters, [...] Twitter has recently emerged terrorists' favorite Internet service, even more popular than self-designed websites or Facebook, to disseminate propaganda and enable internal communication.'
Nevertheless, Iraqi authorities appear to be trying to limit the dissemination of such images and other militant propaganda being shared through social media and to deny the militants their use for operational purposes.
Martin Frank, the CEO of IQ Networks, an Internet service provider in Iraq, told the AP that authorities have ordered multiple social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, to be blocked. On Sunday, they tightened the restrictions further by telling network operators to halt traffic for virtual private networks, which allow users to bypass Internet filters.
Internet traffic in several areas overrun by militants, including Mosul and Tikrit, was ordered cut off altogether, he said. No timeframe was given for the shutdowns.
It may however, prove to be a futile gesture given how easy it is for terrorists to simply create new, anonymous accounts in a matter of minutes.
'One element of publicising such acts on the internet is to show other terror groups, and potential recruits, particularly those committed to establishing a caliphate, what they are capable of and the lengths to which they will go to promote their causes.
'Certainly in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is widely regarded as being a tool of the Americans - anything that shows they can defeat the Iraqi army is not just a defeat of Shiite forces but also a victory over the West. And it makes for a very powerful recruiting tool.'
Political risk consultancy The Soufan Group added: 'The two Pakistan Taliban attacks on Karachi airport over the last few days, together with Boko Haram’s brazen kidnapping of another 20 women and several bloody attacks on rural communities in Northeastern Nigeria, are a reminder—if any is needed—of the threat posed by today’s terrorist groups.
'But neither the Pakistan Taliban nor Boko Haram can compete with the challenges posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
'ISIS has become indisputably the most effective and ruthless terrorist organization in the world. It now challenges the authority of two of the largest states in the Middle East, and has attracted significant numbers of fighters, not just from Iraq and Syria, but also from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states including Jordan.'
In Iraq, another town fell to ISIS militants this morning, solidifying their hold in the north of the country, as evidence of the jihadists' brutal reign intensified with shocking images of fighters massacring helpless prisoners.
Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border, was taken before dawn today a week after Mosul, Iraq's second city, fell to the jihadist fighters.
It came as pictures posted on a militant website appeared to show masked fighters forcing captives to lie down in a shallow ditch. Further images seem to show the bodies of the men soaked in blood after being shot.
Most of the soldiers who appear in the pictures are in civilian clothes. Some are shown wearing military uniforms underneath, indicating they may have hastily disguised themselves as civilians to try to escape.
Other scenes show men purportedly moments before their executions, as they are herded like cattle into large trucks and driven to their deaths. They huddled and cowered in the overfilled vehicles, some covering their faces as they awaited their fate.
'This is the fate of the Shi'ites which Nuri (al-Maliki, Iraq's president) brought to fight the Sunnis,' a caption to one of the pictures reads.
Meanwhile, in nearby Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents hellbent on destroying the first peaceful transfer of authority, ordered voters not to participate in the weekend's general election.
Anyone who did in Taliban-held areas, faced having their voting fingers hacked off as a punishment. The referendum was further marred by a series of rocket barrages and other scattered attacks that killed 60.
Later on Saturday, a minibus hit an improvised explosive device in the northern Samangan province, killing six women, one child and four men.
And in Israel today, the mother of one of three Israeli teenagers abducted in the West Bank issued a emotional message to her son, telling him the authorities are 'doing everything' to bring the boys home.
'Mommy and Daddy and your brothers love you until the end of the world and you should know that the people of Israel are doing all they can to bring you back home,' Racheli Frenkel told her U.S.-born son Naftali.
Her comments came as Israel arrested 40 more people, including a senior figure in the Palestinian government, as part of a massive manhunt for the teenagers it says were kidnapped by Hamas.
American-born Frenkel was abducted with Israelis Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Gilad Shaar, 16, as they headed home from a West Bank religious school in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.
The crisis has escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas but backed by Hamas, as Israeli special forces arrested more than 150 people as their hunt for the boys continued.
And in further blow to the global fight against terrorism, Nigeria's former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the 200 schoolgirls taken snatched from the classrooms in the village of Chibok in northeast Nigeria in April may never return home.
Obasanjo, who stepped down in 2007 and nurtured Jonathan's own rise to power, said President Goodluck Jonathan's administration had taken too long to respond to the mass abduction.
‘I believe that some of them will never return. We will still be hearing about them many years from now,’ Obasanjo told the BBC's Hausa-language radio service. ‘If you get all of them back, I will consider it a near-miracle...'
Boko Haram, which wants to set up an Islamist caliphate in Africa's largest economy, has fought back against an army offensive and killed thousands in bomb and gun attacks, striking as far afield as the central city of Jos and the capital Abuja.