NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya blamed Somali al Shabaab rebels on Sunday for grenade attacks that killed at least six people and wounded scores at a bus station near the heart of the capital Nairobi a day earlier.
Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said four grenades were hurled into the Machakos bus station at about 7.30 p.m. (1630 GMT) on Saturday from a passing vehicle, killing one person while five more died later from their injuries.
“Of course, the initial suspicion is that of al Shabaab,” he told a news conference. “It will be recalled that there have been similar incidents previously and the government has been able to successfully apprehend those responsible.”
Al Shabaab, which formally merged with al Qaeda this year, said it was at war with Kenya, but did not take responsibility for the Nairobi blasts.
“There is no peace between al Shabaab and Kenya. It is incumbent on Kenya officials to answer who was behind the bus station blast in Nairobi last night,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for al Shabaab’s military operation, told Reuters.
Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October in a bid to crush the Islamist rebels, following a series of cross-border raids and kidnappings on Kenyan soil, which threatened its tourism business. Kenya blamed al Shabaab for the seizures, though the group denied responsibility.
The latest Nairobi explosions were similar to two strikes at a nearby bus station and a bar that killed one person and wounded more than 20 in October, a week after Kenya began operations in Somalia.
A Kenyan man who admitted carrying out the October bus station attack said he was a member of al Shabaab and was jailed for life.
After those attacks, a top al Shabaab official urged its supporters in Kenya to shun grenade attacks and hit Nairobi with a huge blast instead.
The African Union called the blasts a “terrorist” attack and reiterated its appreciation to Kenya for its role in efforts to defeat al Shabaab and bring peace to Somalia.
“WE SHALL SUCCEED”
The October attacks spooked Kenyans and security was beefed up in the capital at hotels, government buildings, restaurants, bars and shopping malls. Saitoti said on Sunday the security forces had again intensified surveillance.
“This is an attack by people who think they can puncture the resolve of Kenyan people to fight against terror,” Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka told reporters.
“I just want to urge the country to remain calm and for all of us to even be more committed to the fight against terror, and I‘m sure we shall succeed,” he said outside the Kenyatta National Hospital where almost 70 victims of Saturday’s attack were treated for their injuries.
Briton Jermaine Grant was arrested last year and charged with planning an attack in Kenya after being found in possession of bomb-making material that included batteries, wire, ammonium nitrate, lead nitrate, acetone and hydrogen peroxide.
Security sources say he had plans for hotels and restaurants in the capital Nairobi frequented by Somali government officials, Western expatriates and Ethiopians.
Soldiers from Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi are also fighting al Shabaab in Somalia. Al Shabaab’s biggest strike outside Somalia was in the Ugandan capital in 2010, when twin suicide blasts killed 79 people watching the soccer World Cup Final.
Al Qaeda has twice hit Kenya before. In 1998, more than 200 people were killed and thousands wounded when a massive truck bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in downtown Nairobi.
On November 28, 2002, 15 people including three suicide bombers were killed and 80 wounded in an attack on a hotel frequented by Israelis near the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
Six people were also killed by grenade blasts in the capital in June 2010 at a prayer meeting during campaigning for a new referendum in the east African country. No one ever claimed responsibility for that attack.
Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu, Humphrey Malalo; in Nairobi and Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Editing by Sophie Hares