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Gunmen kill dozens in coastal Kenyan town -

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SIMON SANTOW: To Kenya now, where the government there is coming to grips with the latest particularly brutal terrorist attack in the country.

Gunmen shot dead around 50 people in a series of gun battles which raged for several hours in the quiet coastal town of Mpeketoni several hundred kilometres east of the capital, Nairobi.

The attack is almost certainly the work of the al Qaeda linked Al Shabaab militants from across the border in Somalia.

Africa correspondent Martin Cuddihy reports.

(Sound of wailing)

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Those who are left behind mourn for family killed in a sudden and brutal attack.

Scores of people have been shot dead on the streets and in their homes.

On Sunday night, two vehicles packed with gunmen drove into the coastal town of Mpeketoni.

Witnesses say they began shooting civilians at random.

Some men were dragged out of their homes at gunpoint, and shot outside.

Wariko Waita from the Kenyan Red Cross says homes and businesses have been destroyed.

WARIKO WAITA: Well, there is a lot of infrastructure that has been destructed. The assessment is still being done on quite a number of houses. We have some hotels, a restaurant and public places and other public infrastructure that was burnt.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The attack lasted for at least four hours.

The deputy county governor is Eric Mugo.

ERIC MUGO: Those guys were in large numbers. There were over 50 of them, they were in two vans and I hear from sources they have already burnt down their vans.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Terrified Kenyans ran into the bush to escape the shooting.

It's understood the local authorities were easily outgunned by the terrorists, who had higher calibre weapons with a much faster rate of fire.

ERIC MUGO: They might have escaped in to the forest because I don't believe they went all through the roads because our officers had put an ambush in each and every corner, but on the same what I say, they were some delays in terms of response.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: No-one has claimed responsibility, but the Somali-based terrorist group, Al Shabaab, is almost certainly linked to this attack

However, the Kenyan government is instead focussing on domestic problems. The interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, is trying to link the opposition to the attack.

JOSEPH OLE LENKU: Recently, I issued a caution to the effect that there is a line beyond which nobody should cross. The red line has since been crossed. Those engaging in incitement of public will be firmly dealt with in accordance with the law.

The politicians are hereby warned to desist from inciting the public.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Last week the UK closed its consulate in Mombasa due to security concerns.

Mpeketoni is just north of Mombasa.

For months here, there has been talk of another major attack in Kenya.

It's not yet clear if the Mpeketoni massacre is that major attack.

In Nairobi, this is Martin Cuddihy for The World Today.