Nairobi — Kenya said on Friday it had not confirmed the reported execution of its soldier by Al Shabaab militants in Somalia, but hastened to condemn the "barbaric act if indeed it has happened."
"We have heard of those reports, but we have not formally confirmed them," Military Spokesman Cyrus Oguna told Capital FM News on telephone.
The militants reported early on Friday that they had executed a KDF soldier captured several months ago, and repeated threats to kill five other Kenyans, including two government officials taken from Wajir in January last year.
"We just hope it has not happened but should it be the case, we would want to condemn it in the strongest terms possible," Oguna said. "If it has happened, it goes to confirm what we have always said that Al Shabaab has no respect for the sanctity human and life."
He said the reported execution of the Kenyan soldier "will not weaken our strength at all, the war on Al Shabaab continues."
On Friday morning, Al Shabaab released a statement detailing the execution, complete with a photograph of the 'dead' private soldier.
"While the mujahedeen have executed the serving KDF (Kenya Defence Force) soldier, there is still a chance of securing the release of the remaining five prisoners," the militant group said in the statement.
Last month, the Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents issued a February 14 deadline ordering Kenya - whose troops are fighting the Shabaab inside Somalia - to release "all Muslim prisoners held on so-called terrorism charges in Kenya".
The Al Shabaab, who have previously released videos of Kenyan civil servants they have kidnapped, have said they will execute five hostages within three days unless the Kenyan government buckles to their demands.
Edward Mule, a former Burdei district DO, and Fredrick Irungu, a registration clerk are among those being held by the Al Qaeda linked terror group.
The two were captured last January and pleas from their families to the government to have them released, remain unanswered.
Kenya has been hit by a spate of attacks including hand grenade and bombs since it invaded southern Somalia in late 2011 to attack Al Shabaab bases, following a string of kidnappings inside Kenya blamed on the Islamists.
Many of the attacks in Kenya - including hand grenade blasts in the capital Nairobi - are blamed on Shabaab supporters or Kenyan sympathisers, although the Al Shabaab have not claimed the attacks themselves.
But the once powerful Shabaab are on the back foot inside Somalia, having fled a string of key towns ahead of a 17,000-strong African Union force - which includes Kenyan troops - which is also fighting alongside Somali soldiers.
Ethiopian troops are also battling the Al Shabaab in the southwest of Somalia.
On Thursday, AU troops and government forces seized the towns of Janalle, Aw Dhigle and Barire, some 80 kilometres southwest of the capital Mogadishu, the latest Shabaab bases to fall.
However, the Al Shabaab remain a potent threat, still controlling rural areas as well as carrying out guerrilla attacks in areas apparently under government control.