NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya's top opposition leader on Wednesday said a statement by the country's president that local political networks were responsible for two days of killings that left 60 people dead "trivialized" the massacre.
Raila Odinga, the country's former prime minister and runner-up in the last presidential election, said a statement by President Uhuru Kenyatta that recent attacks on Kenya's coast were not carried out by the Somali militant group al-Shabab went against the conclusions of security experts and foreign governments.
Kenyatta on Tuesday said political networks were behind the killings, an insinuation that most Kenyan observers in the country said was an accusation against Odinga.
"He did not mention my name, but I have stated clearly that is to trivialize a very serious national disaster what has happened in Mpekatoni," said Odinga, who went on to criticize the president for not visiting the site of the killings.
Kenya has seen a wave of terror attacks by Somali militants and sympathizers over the last year, most notably the massacre at Nairobi's Westgate Mall by four gunmen in September. Bombs have also detonated on buses and at tourist sites. On Sunday night attackers killed around 50 people in the coastal area of Mpekatoni, near the tourist town of Lamu. Attacks the following night killed another 10 people.
A police official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that security authorities are working on the theory that local actors may have hired al-Shabab to carry out the killings. The official insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to release information about an ongoing investigation.
Despite the steady drumbeat of attacks, Kenyatta on Tuesday said he was mostly satisfied with the efforts of his security team.
Odinga, though, called for an overhaul of the country's security chiefs, including the heads of the defense and internal security ministries. He also said Kenyatta should define and limit Kenya's military objectives in Somalia so that Kenya's military effort that does not "mutate into a military occupation."
Kenyatta on Tuesday said evidence indicated that the motive for the killing spree was to evict a community of people in order to grab the land along the coast. Kenya's coast has been inhabited by Muslims for centuries, but in recent decades land has been given to Kenyan groups from the nation's interior. Mpeketoni residents are mostly Kikuyu, a Christian community that the president hails from.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the two nights of attacks and said they would continue as long as Kenyans continue to "invade our lands."
Kenya has seen ethnic violence rip apart the country in recent years. More than 1,000 people were killed in ethnically motivated violence after the country's 2007 election. Both Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have been charged at the International Criminal Court for what the court's prosecutor says is their role in helping to instigate that bloodshed.