Kenya’s Deadly Night Riders

Kenya faces serious security challenges, exemplified by a recent attack on the town of Mpeketoni, in which Islamic militants killed more than 60 people over the course of two days. But there remains ample reason for optimism about Kenya, one of Africa's most resilient countries.

NAIROBI – It sounds like the plot of an old Western movie. A posse of desperados gallops into a frontier town, burns the saloon, robs the bank, guns down leading citizens, and disappears into the dead of night before the sheriff gets himself out of bed.

That is what has happened, repeatedly in recent days, in a small Kenyan town named Mpeketoni, just south of the Somali border on the Indian Ocean coast. Last week, a gang of armed men hijacked a mini-fleet of matatus, small group taxis, and roared into the city center, shooting as they went. They set shops and banks ablaze. In neighboring villages, they went door to door, asking for citizens by name. Those who were Muslim and could prove it by reciting the Koran were spared. Others were shot at point-blank range or hacked to death.

The killers went about their gruesome business with an almost carefree attitude. The shooting began shortly after 8:30 in the evening and went on until dawn. Despite the resounding gunfire and frantic alarms, no security forces responded until the attackers were safely gone. Police at the local station, scarcely 100 meters away, fled into the bush – despite the fact that senior intelligence officials in Nairobi had warned regional commanders three days before that a terrorist attack might be imminent.

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