GARISSA, Kenya (AP) — Gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles opened fire at a mosque in Kenya's east, killing seven people, an official said Thursday, in an attack less than two weeks before Kenya's national presidential vote.
The victims include five men who were shot inside the mosque while praying at dawn, said Garissa County Commissioner Maalim Mohamed. Two women who rushed to the mosque to check what was happening were also shot dead. The motive of the attack is not clear, Mohamed said.
The attack took place in the remote and tiny village of Maayleey, about 30 miles from the Somalia border. Mohamed said that security personnel were pursuing the attackers. Red Cross officials were dispatching medical personnel to the scene.
The region has been a hotspot of attacks blamed on al-Qaida-linked militants from Somalia. Somalia's al-Shabab militants have vowed to carry out attacks on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya's military push into Somalia in late 2011.
Thursday's attack comes less than two weeks before Kenya holds nationwide elections on March 4. There are fears al-Shabab-affiliated militants may try to disrupt the election with attacks amid signs that politically-motivated attacks are increasing.
A political aspirant in the nearby Wajir South constituency was shot and wounded by armed men near the Dadaab refugee complex, the world largest refugee camp, on Wednesday.
On Saturday a suspected militant died while planting an improvised explosive device in Garissa at a venue where one of the country's presidential contenders was going to hold a campaign rally, officials said Sunday.
Ngatia Iregi, the Northeastern Province deputy criminal investigations chief, said officials found charred pieces of at least one body and two pistols at the Garissa primary school field after a loud explosion Saturday night. One of the pistols had been stolen from Criminal Investigations Department officers who were the victims of an attack by suspected al-Qaeda-linked militants in Garissa last year, Iregi said. One officer died and another was wounded in that incident.
One of Kenya's eight presidential contenders Martha Karua was set to address a campaign rally at the ground on Sunday afternoon, said Abdirahman Boor, a parliamentary aspirant of Karua's National Rainbow Coalition Kenya party. The rally was postponed, he said.
Polls have ranked Karua, the only female candidate for the March 4 elections, as the fifth most popular candidate out of eight presidential aspirants.
The blast pierced through the iron sheet roof that covered a raised platform at the primary school where officials were going to address a rally.
Immediately after Kenya's electoral authority registered the presidential candidates on Jan. 30, the government provided them with a full-time security crew of at least five police officers.