At least 64 people have been killed in two consecutive nights of carnage in Kenya's coastal region, officials said Tuesday, with the Kenyan president blaming "local political networks" and Somalia's Shebab insisting they were responsible.
Over 50 people are missing following the massacres, the Red Cross said, with scores first fleeing an attack overnight Sunday in the town of Mpeketoni in which at least 49 people were killed, and then a second in the nearby village of Poromoko late Monday where gunmen slaughtered 15 people.
The al-Qaida-linked Islamists said its fighters had carried out the attacks, close to the tourist island of Lamu, and that its commando unit had returned to base unhindered.
"The commandos have been going to several places looking for military personnel," Shebab's military spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told Agence France Presse by telephone, without saying if the attackers remained in Kenya or had driven back across the Somali border, around 100 kilometers (60 miles) to the north.
Kenya's interior ministry said it was trying to verify reports some women may have also been abducted.
The attacks are the worst on Kenyan soil since last September's siege of the Westgate shopping mall in the capital Nairobi also claimed by Shebab fighters, in which 67 people were killed.
But Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed "local political networks" for the killings, adding it "played into the opportunist network of other criminal gangs."
"The attack in Lamu was well-planned, orchestrated and politically-motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons," he said in a televised address to the nation.
"This therefore was not an al-Shebab attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of a heinous crime," he said.
Kenyatta said he had suspended some police officers on the ground, claiming they had not acted on intelligence they had of the attack.
Witnesses described how the militants drove into the predominantly Christian town on Sunday night, attacked a police station and then hotels and homes. The gunmen also singled out non-Muslims for execution, sparing Muslim men as well as women and children.
"They arrived and asked people to get out. They asked them to lie down, and then they shot them one by one, right in the head, one after another," said David Waweru, who was watching a World Cup match in a cafe but managed to hide behind a house when the Mpeketoni attack started.
"It was our commandos who were taking care of things over the last two days in the Lamu area, and they will continue to do so," a Shebab official told Agence France Presse by telephone after Kenyatta's speech.
Witnesses said the gunmen had spoken in Somali -- a language many Kenyans also speak -- and flown Shebab flags as they carried out a shooting spree in the town.
The Shebab said the attack was further retaliation for Kenya's military presence in Somalia as well as the "Kenyan government's brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars".
Kenyan troops crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to fight the Shebab, later joining the now 22,000-strong African Union force battling the militants and supporting the war-torn Horn of Africa nation's internationally-backed but fragile government.
Several fundamentalist clerics have also been murdered in Kenya's port city of Mombasa in recent years, with rights groups accusing the Kenyan government of carrying out extra-judicial killings.
The Shebab also declared Kenya a "war zone" and warned tourists and foreigners to stay out of the country, once a top beach and safari destination but now facing a sharp drop in tourism revenue due to political tensions, rising violent crime and the wave of shootings and bombings blamed on the Shebab.
"Foreigners with any regard for their safety and security should stay away from Kenya or suffer the bitter consequences of their folly," a Shebab statement read Monday.
"We hereby warn the Kenyan government and its public that as long as you continue to invade our lands and oppress innocent Muslims, such attacks will continue and the prospect of peace and stability in Kenya will be but a distant mirage," the group said.
Mpeketoni was extremely tense on Tuesday, with residents fearing new attacks despite the presence of police and paramilitary reinforcements, AFP correspondents said.
"People thought it was over yesterday but when we heard the news of this morning, the mood became very bad," said David Njoroge, a 54-year-old local pastor.
"Here we are Christians and Muslims, and all the people killed were Christians. The tension is starting to grow."
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