By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA (Reuters) - Kenyan soldiers have killed five suspected al Shabaab militants near the border with Ethiopia and recovered a vehicle packed with explosives, preventing a potentially huge attack, a defense spokesman said on Monday.
Kenyan forces intercepted the five men in their car on Saturday in the northern frontier town of Moyale, and ordered them to stop, spokesman Bongita Ongeri said. The militants opened fire and were killed in the shootout.
Soldiers found 100 kg of highly explosive TNT in their vehicle along with six suicide vests.
"Those were chemicals that would be used to make dangerous explosives capable of mass destruction," Ongeri told Reuters.
Somalia's al Shabaab Islamist group has repeatedly taken aim at Kenya and other African states that are part of a U.N.-mandated African Union force in Somalia.
Militants belonging to the al Qaeda-allied group stormed Nairobi's upmarket Westgate shopping mall in September last year, killing at least 67 people.
That massacre was followed by a string of gun and grenade attacks on the Kenyan coast and in the capital that prompted some Western nations to warn citizens against travel to parts of the country, hitting the tourist industry.
Ongeri said the men had originally tried to cross into Kenya directly from Somalia but had failed. "Security officers trailed them using intelligence information and tracked them to Moyale," he said.
The incident came just days after the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia warned of a possible attack by al Shabaab there, and urged its nationals to avoid large crowds and hotels and restaurants in an upscale district of the Ethiopian capital.
It was not clear if the militants had precise plans for an attack in Kenya, but the shootout came as Kenyans were preparing to celebrate a holiday on Monday in honor of those who fought for its independence.
(Editing by Edith Honan and Crispian Balmer)