Officials yet to establish motive for attack in which husband was fatally shot and wife taken away in speedboat
The couple would have had little time to walk the pale sands of their resort or dip into its crystalline waters before the speedboat and its crew of heavily armed men emerged from the darkness of the Indian ocean early on Sunday morning.
The two Britons had arrived at Kiwayu Safari Village on Saturday after visiting the Masai Mara reserve. They found themselves the only guests at the beach resort 30 miles from the border with Somalia.
A little after midnight (Sunday morning) the gunmen “crept” past six armed policemen and 22 security guards and stormed the couple’s palm-thatched hut. Once inside they ordered the Britons to hand over all their money and possessions.
Exactly what happened next is unclear, but moments later the husband was shot in the head and killed while trying to protect his wife, who was then bundled into the speedboat and kidnapped. Kenyan police said the couple, whose hut was the furthest one from the hotel reception, would have stood little chance against the attackers.
“They were using clothes [as a] door, so [the attackers] gained entry easily,” Mathew Iteere, a police commissioner, told a press conference in Nairobi on Sunday. “It was only one shot. I think the husband resisted, according to the information we have been able to gather. He resisted and that’s why he was shot.”
A Kenyan security official said one policeman had arrived at the scene shortly after and seen a group of men carrying away a woman. It is thought the officer did not shoot for fear of injuring her.
Although a rescue mission has begun, the wife’s fate remains unknown, as do the identities of her abductors.
Kenyan police suspect the gunmen could have been of the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab and that the woman was taken over the border to Somalia.
Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaida linked militant group, has been fighting the western-backed government in Mogadishu for more than four years. It has its stronghold in Kismayo, 80 miles north of the beach where the couple were attacked.
One police source said officers suspected the raid was the work of al-Shabaab militias rather than pirates because of the way it happened.
“This looks more likely to be an act committed by militias operating from the south [of Somalia], not pirates, but we can’t confirm that at this point,” he said.
Iteere, however, would not be drawn on who he suspected. “There is no group that has claimed responsibility and we do not know the motive yet. We do not want to speculate because we don’t have that information.”
Ndegwa Muhoro, director of Kenya’s criminal investigation department, said anti-terror and special crimes teams were in the area, but stressed the motive for the attack was not established.
“We believe it is a kidnap but are yet to receive any communication from the alleged kidnappers, over 11 hours after they took her with them,” he said.
“We are yet to receive any communication from the armed militia and where they may be holding the British woman.”
Abu Chiaba, a member of parliament for Lamu East and assistant fisheries minister, said there was a need for better security patrols along the border with Somalia as it was an area visited by tourists and provided a livelihood for local people.
Somali gunmen have attacked westerners, across the Kenyan border, on several occasions. Three aid workers were kidnapped in July 2009, and two western nuns in November 2008.
Three years ago, the 77-year-old British missionary Brian Thorp was murdered during a robbery on Lamu.
Tourism is a fundamental part of Kenya’s economy and the country is a hugely popular destination for British holidaymakers. In the first six months of 2011 Britons made up 14.3% of the record number of arrivals, which totalled 549,083.
Phone calls to the Kiwayu Safari Village went unanswered on Sunday afternoon. The resort, which opened in 1973, has 18 huts along a mile or so of pristine white beaches within a marine reserve.
Previous guests include Sir Mick Jagger, the artist Tracey Emin and the actor Imelda Staunton.
The Foreign Office has not talked about the couple’s identity, but said it was doing its best to free the woman.
In a statement the FCO called on the abductors to let her go, saying: “We are working to secure the safe and swift release of the British national who has been kidnapped and ask those involved to show compassion and release the individual immediately.”
One hotel owner, who did not want to be named, said his customers were beginning to panic in the aftermath of the murder.
“We are doing our best to keep people calm but people are really scared,” he said.
“A lot of people have left already and we are expecting more to leave tomorrow. It’s a very sad time for everyone, this is the worst thing that could happen.”