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Gunmen attack World Cup fans in Kenya

Kenya says at least 48 people have been killed in an assault, as soccer fans gathered to watch a World Cup match.

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Mpeketoni: At least 50 people were killed when suspected Islamist gunmen in minibuses sped into a town on Kenya's coast, shooting soccer fans watching a World Cup match in a television hall and targeting hotels, a police post and a bank.

Somalia's al-Shabab Islamist group has claimed responsibility for Sunday night's assault on the town of Mpeketoni, which lies on the Indian Ocean coastline that runs north from Kenya's main port of Mombasa to the Somali border.

"Commandos last night carried out a successful raid on the town of Mpeketoni," al-Shabab said in a statement. It cited the deployment of Kenyan troops to Somalia and what it called Kenya's extra-judicial killings of Muslim scholars, a charge Nairobi has denied.

The rubble left behind: A Mpeketoni man surveys the damage to his town.

The rubble left behind: A Mpeketoni man surveys the damage to his town. Photo: AP

Kenya was on alert during the World Cup to ensure public showings of matches were kept safe after a spate of gun and bomb attacks in recent months that have hurt the country's struggling tourist industry.

"The attackers were so many and were all armed with guns. They entered the video hall where we were watching a World Cup match and shot indiscriminately at us," Meshack Kimani said. "They targeted only men but I was lucky. I escaped by hiding behind the door."

The attack could heighten existing worries in other African nations such as Nigeria, which is battling the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, that bars and other venues hosting World Cup match screenings could become targets.

The remains of the Breeze View Hotel, where residents were watching the World Cup when they were attacked.

The remains of the Breeze View Hotel, where residents were watching the World Cup when they were attacked. Photo: AP

Sunday's assault is the worst in Kenya since last September when al-Shabab gunmen attacked Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, leaving 67 people dead.

After Westgate, al-Shabab warned of more attacks, saying they were determined to drive Kenyan troops out of Somalia. Kenya, whose soldiers are deployed as part of an African peacekeeping force battling militants, says it won't pull out.

The gunmen raced into Mpeketoni in two minibuses of the kind used as public taxis in Kenya and attacked their targets with guns and at least one explosive device. The government said they also raided the nearby settlement of Kibaoni.

Residents of Mpeketoni view the damage left behind at the Equity bank.

Residents of Mpeketoni view the damage left behind at the Equity bank. Photo: Reuters

Witnesses said there were about 30 gunmen. A police officer said all the victims were men, with no women or children killed.

"After they attacked the area, they went round the town in the vehicles shooting in the air and chanting slogans in the Somali language," said 28-year-old Issah Birido, who survived the Mpeketoni attack by climbing a tree, hidden by the darkness.

He said about 10 people were killed at the screening by attackers who arrived between two group-stage matches in the World Cup football tournament.

A member of the Kenyan security forces observes the remains of vehicles destroyed by militants

A member of the Kenyan security forces observes the remains of vehicles destroyed by militants Photo: AP

Mr Birido said two cousins were killed and their homes set on fire. Some 20 buildings were gutted and the charred wreckage of more than 20 vehicles littered the streets, witnesses said.

Kenya Red Cross regional director for the coastal area, Muiruri Kinyanjui, said the death toll was at least 50 but could rise because many residents were still unaccounted for while others had suffered serious injuries.

Many people fled to nearby forests for safety.

Al-Shabab bombed crowds watching World Cup soccer matches on television in the Ugandan capital Kampala in 2010, killing 77 people. Uganda also has troops in Somalia.

There were no immediate reports of foreign visitors being hurt in the attack on Mpeketoni, which is not a major holiday destination. But the assault could still further damage the tourist industry as it is situated just 30 kilometres from Lamu, a historic Arab trading port that is a popular attraction.

Kenyan hotels say bookings have dropped sharply because of recent attacks and warnings by Western governments about travel to Kenya. Some hotels on the coast say they face closure, while some hoteliers inland who offer safari trips say reservations are down by 30 per cent or more. 

Reuters