NAIROBI  (AFP) – A British man was killed and his wife kidnapped in an attack at a luxury beach resort in northern Kenya by suspected Somali Islamist extremists, officials said Sunday.

The attack took place overnight Saturday at a tourist lodge in the Kiunga marine reserve on the Lamu archipelago off Kenya’s northern coast, a Kenyan police official said.

He said officers had launched a massive manhunt for the abductors, using speedboats and helicopters, and police suspected the attackers were Shebab extremists from Somalia.

“We have launched a massive security operation but we are experiencing difficulties because they might have escaped using a speedboat,” said the official who declined to give his name.

“We suspect it involves the Shebab.”

A spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office said that “two British citizens were attacked at a beach resort north of Lamu near the Kenya, Somalia border. One was killed and another was kidnapped.”

A British government source confirmed it was a man who was killed and his wife abducted.

Kenyan police chief Mathew Iteere said the couple, who had arrived at the resort during the day Saturday, were attacked in their room around midnight.

They were the resort’s only guests at the time.

“There was only one shot, I think the husband resisted from what we gather — maybe they wanted to take the two, but he resisted,” said Iteere.

The complex had been well protected by six police and 22 private guards, he said, yet the cottages “do not even have a door — just cloth as the door — so they gained entry so easily.”

The police chief declined to speculate on who was responsible, saying: “I think today is a special day because it is the anniversary of September 11 … but we are treating it as a bandit attack.”

The Foreign Office said British officials were investigating the case alongside their Kenyan counterparts.

“We are working to secure the safe and swift release of the British national who has been kidnapped and ask those involved to show compassion and release the individual immediately,” it said.

The Lamu island chain and the surrounding area is one of Kenya’s top luxury holiday destinations, despite being close to the border with war-torn Somalia.

Most of southern Somalia is controlled by the Shebab, who are waging an insurgency against Somalia’s fragile, Western-backed government.

Security sources in southern Somalia said the Shebab had launched attacks on government bases in the town of Elwak close to the Kenyan border and that fierce fighting was under way Sunday.

Pirates also operate in the waters off Somalia, frequently seizing crew from merchant ships and pleasure craft although tourist resorts have not previously been targeted.

Advice posted on the Foreign Office website advised Britons against going within 30 miles (50 kilometres) of the Kenya-Somalia border.

It states: “There have been previous attacks by Somali militia into Kenya.

“Three aid workers were kidnapped in July 2009, and two Western nuns in November 2008.”

Despite the dangers, the region is a favourite with tourists and has been frequented by celebrities.

British artist Tracey Emin visited the area, and wrote of it in the Times newspaper in 2008: “There’s a tiny little spot in Kenya called Kiwayu, near the Somalian border, which has to be one of my favourite places on earth.

“It’s so tranquil.”

Kenya attracts large numbers of tourists with its beautiful beaches and safaris. Tourist arrivals hit a record 1.1 million in 2010, according to Tourism Minister Najib Balala.

Nevertheless, northern Kenya is insecure due to its proximity to Somalia, endemic poverty, a lack of infrastructure and small numbers of police which are unable to keep watch over a huge area.

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