Somali rebel group Al-Shabab has denied claims by Kenyan authorities that more than 100 of its fighters were killed in retaliatory efforts following a bus attack in the country’s north.
Deputy President William Ruto said on Sunday that government forces carried out a cross-border attack targeting the perpetrators of Saturday’s assault in which 28 bus passengers were summarily executed near the town of Mandera.
"Two successful operations in the hideouts of the perpetrators of Mandera executions were swiftly carried out across the border. Our retaliatory action left in its trail more than a hundred fatalities." Ruto said in an address to the nation outside his office in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
"It also destroyed four technicals [pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns] and the camp from which this crime was planned." Ruto added.
However, the Al-Qaeda-linked group’s military operations spokesman, Abdi Aziz Abu Mus’ab, called Ruto’s claim “absurd.”
"Our Mujahedeen are safe and didn’t face any attack whatsoever after the successful operation they carried out by the grace of Allah,” Mus’ab told Al Jazeera.
“Claims like these are only spewed by the Kenyan authorities to cover up their failure to secure the safety of their people,” he added.
In Saturday’s attack near the Somalia-Kenya border, gunmen hijacked a bus with 60 passengers on board before separating the Muslims and non-Muslims onboard.
The gunmen then executed all the non-Muslims before crossing the porous border back into Somalia. Among those killed were at least 17 schoolteachers traveling back to their hometowns for Christmas.
On Saturday, Mandera’s governor, Ali Ibrahim Roba, who last month survived a suspected Al-Shabab assassination attempt, accused Kenyan forces of taking insecurity in the region lightly.
“The county security team has downplayed the increased threats of terror in Mandera town & along the border. We always react after events.” Roba said on his Twitter account.
Kenyan authorities have blamed Al-Shabab for a wave of deadly attacks across the nation. Kenya sent troops to Somalia in 2011 after raids on its coastal towns blamed on Al-Shabab and has since seen a surge in lethal attacks.
The Somali group has also been blamed for the September 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, which killed 77 people.
Al Jazeera and wire services