NAIROBI, Kenya — An improvised explosive device killed four people in a passenger vehicle in northern Kenya in a suspected extremist attack, an official said Friday, as fears grew that the al-Shabab extremist group in neighboring Somalia had adopted a deadly new strategy.
Northeastern Coordinator Mohamed Saleh said the vehicle had 15 people inside and the other 11 were critically injured. One of those killed was a government chief and another chief was critically wounded, said Eric Oronyi, a deputy county commissioner. The vehicle is used commercially along the Elwak-Mandera route, he said.
Similar explosions in Kenya in the past month had killed at least 34 people, including 20 police officers. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for those attacks.
The al-Qaida-affiliated al-Shabab has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the extremists. Kenya is part of the multinational African Union mission in Somalia to bolster its weak central government from al-Shabab’s insurgency.
Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mahmoud Rage in a message earlier this week threatened Kenya with an unrelenting war unless its citizens embrace Islam and the government withdraws its troops from Somalia, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist groups.
Analysts call the improvised explosives a change in strategy by al-Shabab, which has been carrying out attacks inside Kenya since 2011.
Delano Kiilu, the secretary general of the Protective and Safety Association of Kenya, said al-Shabab has increased the use of improvised bombs to target supply routes. This may mean more fighters in the extremist group have learned how to make bombs, as previously there was a bomb maker for each cell, he said.
Al-Shabab increases its attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Kiilu also said. This week’s overnight attack on a popular restaurant in Somalia’s capital began as people were breaking their daily Ramadan fast and 31 were killed, police said.
Kenya has managed to stop the frequency of al-Shabab attacks in its capital, Nairobi, and major towns, but human rights groups say the government uses methods such as extrajudicial killings that can fuel revenge attacks.