NAIROBI (AFP) - Kenya's interior minister and police chief were removed from their posts on Tuesday, hours after Somalia's Shebab rebels carried out a fresh massacre in the northeast of the country.
In a televised address to the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta also vowed his security forces will "intensify the war on terrorism" after a spate of killings in the country by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents that he called "deranged animals".
A group of Shebab rebels stormed into a quarry near the border town of Mandera shortly after midnight, and police and officials said they weeded out 36 non-Muslims for execution.
Those labourers not shot as they slept were placed in lines in the dusty quarry, with insurgents shooting most in the head but also beheading others.
Their bodies were flown to Nairobi later on Monday on a military transport plane.
The Shebab said in a statement that their latest cross-border attack was fresh retaliation for Kenya's 2011 invasion and continued presence in Somalia, as well as its treatment of Muslims in the troubled port city of Mombasa.
The attack came just over a week after the Shebab executed 28 people grabbed from a bus travelling from Mandera, a border town located on the frontier between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and the group vowed to conduct more "uncompromising, relentless and ruthless" attacks.
Kenyatta, however, said Kenyan troops would stay put in Somalia, where they are now part of an African Union forces battling the Shebab and supporting the war-torn country's internationally-backed government.
"This is a war and a war that we must win, we must win it together," he said. "The ultimate aim of this atrocious campaign is to create an extremist caliphate."
He called the Shebab "deranged animals" who had killed more than 800 people in attacks inside Kenya, including 500 civilians and 300 security officers.
"We will not flinch or relent in the war against terrorism in our country and our region. We shall continue to inflict painful casualties on these terrorists until we secure our country and region. Our stability and prosperity depends on a secure neighbourhood."
The Kenyan government has been under fire since last year's Shebab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed in a siege involving just four gunmen and which lasted four days.
Worries over internal security mounted when Shebab rebels massacred 100 people in a string of raids against villages in the Lamu region on the Kenyan coast in June and July.
The sacked interior minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, has become a figure of public ridicule for his statements on the security situation, while national police chief David Kimaiyo has been accused of repeated lapses - contributing to dwindling public confidence in the country's security apparatus.
According to Kenyan media, intelligence officials had alerted police to the presence of a group of Shebab fighters in the northeast before last month's bus attack, but police had failed to react and were so slow in responding to distress calls that the assailants had plenty of time to escape.
Kenyatta announced that Ole Lenku had been replaced, and that Kimaiyo has been allowed to retire early. He said he had nominated Joseph Nkaissery to take over the security docket as interior minister.
Labourers in the largely Muslim and ethnic Somali northeastern regions often come from Kenya's central highlands, where Christians make up about 80 per cent of the population. Those working in the quarry attacked on Tuesday were also reported to have been from outside the region.
Several key unions including for civil servants have warned their members to leave the restive northeast until the government can ensure their safety, and there have been reports of people flooding out of the area or seeking army protection in the wake of the latest massacre.
The Shebab meanwhile boasted of having killed "nearly 40 Kenyan crusaders" in the quarry, and signalled more killings were being planned.
"This latest attack was part of a series of attacks planned and executed by the mujahedeen as a response to Kenya's occupation of Muslim lands and their ongoing atrocities," Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement.
He threatened more attacks on Kenyan soil by their "Saleh Nabhan brigade" - named after slain Shebab commander and Kenyan citizen Saleh Ali Nabhan, who was killed in 2009 by US special forces for his role as Al-Qaeda's chief in east Africa.
"As Kenya persists in its occupation of Muslim lands, kills innocent Muslims, transgresses upon their sanctities and throws them into prisons, we will persist to defend our land and our people from their aggression," the statement said.
"We are uncompromising in our beliefs, relentless in our pursuit, ruthless against the disbelievers and we will do whatever necessary to defend our Muslim brethren suffering from Kenya's aggression." Shebab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US air strike in September. The group has since named Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah, as its new head.