NAIROBI, Kenya -- Three gunmen from Somalia crossed the Kenyan border and killed a community organizer working with Somali refugees, officials said Monday, a cross-border incursion that underscores the threat militants pose to Kenya.
The victim, Ibrahim Mohamed, had reportedly been encouraging Somali asylum seekers not to return to Somalia, and based on that he became a target, said Emmanuel Nyabera, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
"We can confirm he was one of the refugees we were working very closely with," Nyabera said.
Three gunmen followed Mohamed up to the Kenyan border before gunning him down on Kenyan soil and then returning to Somalia, where they came from, said Aggrey Adoli, the police chief in northeastern Kenya.
Officials said quietly that al-Shabab -- Somalia's most feared militant group -- was likely behind the incursion.
Adoli said his region faces no imminent threat from al-Shabab fighters across the border.
"We are internally safe. But we are taking all precautions because we have a lawless country next door," he said.
UNHCR last week appealed to Kenyan authorities to halt the return of Somali refugees from the border town of Mandera. The U.N. agency said local authorities had ordered more than 8,000 Somali refugees to cross back into Somalia despite what UNHCR said was "substantial risk."
The refugee camp at Mandera was primarily comprised of children, women and the elderly, UNHCR said. The forced returns, UNHCR said, violates Kenya's Constitution, its Refugees Act and international law.
However James ole Serian, Kenya's top government official in the northeastern region, said that Kenya allows Somali refugees in when there is danger but that "when there is no danger we don't."
"We are a sovereign country and we have the right to allow in anyone we want to," he said.
About 10,000 Somalis crossed the border to Mandera during recent fighting in Somalia, Serian said, and authorities provided them with water, food and shelter. But as the fighting subsided "all of them had returned to Somalia of their own free will." He said fighting in the Somali border town of Bula Hawo has stopped.
He argued that aid groups are trying to "capitalize on the plight of Somalis" by saying that they are stuck at the border.
"If they want to help Somalis why didn't they go to Bula Hawo," he said. "Kenyans were the ones helping Somalis. The NGOs (aid groups) wanted to set up a camp for refugees in Mandera. A camp for what? Somalis said they wanted to return to their country and all of them had already returned to Somalia."
Serian said the last of the refugees left Mandera three days ago.