Somalia al-Shabaab militants attack Mpeketoni town in Kenya
Al-Shabaab militants strike coastal town as death toll reaches 48 Reuters file photo

The overnight attack by suspected militants from the Somalia-based Islamist outfit, al-Shabaab, in the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni has left at least 48 people dead amid fears that the toll could rise even higher.

The heavily armed gunmen stormed the town, 40km from the popular tourist destination of Lamu.

"We are going there to witness but the situation is not good for now. The toll could be more than the 47 bodies that we have collected," Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo told the Kenyan daily Standard.

The Somali militants, armed with automatic weapons, randomly opened fire in the streets of the small town.

Several buildings including hotels, restaurants, and state offices were set ablaze as residents watched the FIFA World Cup on television.

"There were around 50 attackers, heavily armed in three vehicles, and they were flying the Shabaab flag. They were shouting in Somali and shouting 'Allahu Akbar' [God is Great]," senior government official Beson Maisori told the Daily Nation.

The extremists and security forces exchanged gunfire throughout the night.

Kenyan security forces are combing the area while a surveillance jet has also been deployed.

Although no group has officially claimed responsibility for the attack, reports largely point to the Somali militant group, which is being blamed for a spate of recent attacks in Kenya.

Kenyan forces had entered Somalia in 2011 to fight against the al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents. Later, Kenyan soldiers joined forces with African Union troops to continue the offensive.