An injured policeman rests in a hospital bed in Kenya's
capital Nairobi following an ambush in Baragoi.
Armed cattle raiders have killed at least 32 Kenyan
police officers in a military-style ambush, officials say,
calling it the worst attack on police in Kenya's history.
Officers hunting down the cattle thieves in a remote northern
region on Saturday (local time) came under machinegun fire
and rocket-propelled grenades in an ambush the police said
was conducted with "military precision".
"We have recovered more bodies, we now have 32 in total. They
were ambushed by attackers bearing sophisticated weapons,
including machine guns," Osman Warfa, provincial commissioner
of the vast Rift Valley province, told Reuters.
The police were pursuing raiders from the ethnic Turkana
community who had stolen cattle from the Samburu tribe,
authorities said. The two groups frequently raid cattle from
each other and fight over grazing land and watering points.
The violence has created security concerns ahead of a
presidential election scheduled for March next year - the
first since a disputed election in 2007 fuelled ethnic
slaughter that killed more than 1200 people and forced about
300,000 from their homes.
Warfa said some of the raiders were suspected of being former
members of the security forces, now working as mercenaries.
Authorities were searching for more bodies in the bushy
escarpments where the raiders hide stolen cattle, he said.
Police trailed the bandits at night, hoping to lay siege to
their village and recover the animals, but were instead
outmanoeuvred and ambushed in a sprawling valley, police
spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.
"It is easily the worst single attack on police."
Cattle rustling and clashes over grazing and farming land are
relatively common between communities in arid areas of east
Africa and often escalate into revenge attacks. It was not
clear how many had been killed in the initial raid by the
As cattle die of starvation due to drought, night-time raids
are mounted to replace lost stock from neighbouring areas.
Following the initial raid by the Turkana, police set off
after the bandits in the bushy valley where they were met
with gunshots and rocket-propelled grenades near a village
suspected to be the rustlers' hideout in Samburu county.
"Police were on trucks, some were on foot when they were
ambushed," said a senior police officer who declined to be
named. "This area has always been prone to banditry."
Samburu county has a national game reserve dotted with herds
of elephants, buffalo and zebra, and neighbouring Turkana
county is where British explorer Tullow Oil struck the
country's first promising oil find earlier this year.
The remote areas to the north of Kenya rely on vigilante
groups for security. Many homesteads have weapons to deter
invaders, while herders often carry guns to protect their
animals because there is barely any police presence.
Arms smuggling is common and Kenyan police have little
control over weaponry crossing the porous border to the
The region is awash with guns due to its proximity to
unstable neighbours such as Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked
militants have been fighting to topple the government.
Kenya's north also borders South Sudan, which has suffered
decades of civil conflict, and Ethiopia, where the armed
Oromo Liberation Front has made sporadic incursions into the
In similar clashes in the other end of Kenya, more than 100
people were shot, hacked and burnt to death by armed raiders
in the coastal county of Tana River in September.