NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s army said it killed a regional commander from Somalia’s al Shabaab group, and possibly also a Briton who joined the militants, in fighting over the weekend.
Eleven Somali militants and two Kenyan soldiers died when al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab fighters attacked a military base in Kenya’s northern coastal region of Lamu County on Sunday, officials said.
An al Shabaab spokesman, Abdiasis Abu Musab, said 20 Kenyan soldiers died and “some of our fighters were martyred” in two attacks in Lamu, giving no details about the fighters or the second assault.
Among those killed was al Shabaab’s Luqman Osman Issa, also known as Shirwa, blamed for leading attacks on Kenya’s Mpeketoni area a year ago in which 65 people were killed, Kenya Defence Forces spokesman Colonel David Obonyo said on Monday.
“This is a big victory for us and also a major setback for al Shabaab because now there is no mainstream commander in the Lamu area,” he told Reuters, adding Shirwa’s body was in a morgue in Mpeketoni.
He also said the dead may have included Thomas Evans, also known as Abdul Hakim, a Briton in his mid-20s who had converted to Islam aged 19 and later joined al Shabaab. Obonyo said data about Evans and pictures publicly available “point at him”.
“But we cannot be certain becomes sometimes looks can be deceiving. The necessary forensic investigations are being done including a DNA test I understand,” he said.
Obonyo said another man of apparently of Caucasian or Arab origin was among the dead, while the others killed appeared to be from the region.
Britain said it could not confirm whether Evans had been killed. “We are aware of reports of the death of a British national in Kenya,” said a British government spokesman. “We cannot confirm these at this time.”
Al Shabaab, which seeks to overthrow the Western-backed Somali government and impose its strict interpretation of Islamic law, has frequently targeted neighbouring Kenya in recent years, saying it is retaliating for Kenya’s participation in an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.
In April, al Shabaab militants raided a university in the northern Kenyan city of Garissa, killing nearly 150 students, and in September 2013 militants killed at least 67 people in an attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall.
Reporting by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens