MANDERA, Kenya, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan authorities have confirmed that five police officers were killed by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in a Monday morning raid and their vehicle burnt in the northeastern county of Mandera.
Mandera County Police Commander, Job Boronjo, told journalists the police officers were escorting a commuter bus which was travelling between Kutulo and Dambacity in the county.
Around 30 militants shot at the bus, bound for Mandera from Nairobi, before attacking the police vehicle. "Nine police officers were in the vehicle during the 9.00 a.m. incident," Boronjo said.
The police vehicle and the five policemen were burnt "beyond recognition" but the other four officers were out of danger, according to the police commander.
Bornojo said the militants were well prepared and heavily armed.
He said a joint security team of police and troops would intensify aerial surveillance as attackers were believed to have moved to neighboring Somalia.
North Eastern Regional Coordinator, Mohamed Saleh, earlier confirmed the attack in Elwak area, which is the first since the month of Ramadan began. Kenyan police had warned that Somalia's Islamist group Al-Shabaab were planning to carry out attacks in Kenya during Ramadan.
Saleh said the militants placed themselves in "strategic positions" waiting to ambush the officers, and escaped after the attack.
The bodies of the killed officers were airlifted to Nairobi while the passengers have proceeded with their journey to Mandera, Saleh said.
He said Al-Shabaab commander Issack Okola, who he said was head of a team active in and near Elwak area, was suspected of being behind the attack.
"This man who is a Kenyan and hails from Elwak sub-county is a dangerous terrorists who has a 20,000 U.S. dollar bounty on his head. We believe he is behind this attack," he said.
"We want to treat this incident as an isolated one since we have not had a single attack (in Kenya) in the last 11 months," he added.
The ambush took place in an area near the border with Somalia, where police vehicles have previously been targeted by bombs planted on the roads.
The attack could be a blow to the region, given it has been recovering from past similar incidents that led to an exodus of teachers and doctors who complained about insecurity.
Al-Shabaab has carried out several bloody attacks in Kenya since Kenyan troops entered Somalia in October 2011 to battle the militants.