Kenyan security forces search for two missing aid workers at a village near near Liboi, Kenya's border town with Somalia on October 15.

Story highlights

NEW: Abductions of tourists, workers in Kenya have heightened tensions

Kenya is evoking its right to self-defense in sending troops into Somalia

Al-Shabaab is linked to al Qaeda and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.

African Union military forces said they drove Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu last week

Nairobi CNN  — 

Kenyan troops are pursuing suspected Islamic militants from Al-Shabaab across the border into Somalia, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua told CNN Sunday.

The move marks a dramatic shift in security tactics for the east African powerhouse, which is evoking the United Nations charter allowing military action in self-defense against its largely lawless neighbor.

“If you are attacked by an enemy, you have to pursue that enemy through hot pursuit and to try hit wherever that enemy is,” said Defense Minister Yusuf Haji in a news conference aired on CNN affiliate NTV.

Haji said repeatedly that the Kenyan military was ready to pursue “terrorists” inside the war-torn country.

“If a country is provoked and its territorial boundary is violated, a country has all the right to deal with the crisis wherever it is,” said George Saitoti, the minister for Internal Security.

Al-Shabaab, which is linked to al Qaeda and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is fighting to impose its own interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, on Somalia.

Recent abductions of tourists and aid workers in Kenya have heightened tensions.

On September 11, armed bandits broke into a beachfront cottage where Britons Judith and David Tebbutt, both in their 50s, were staying.

David Tebbutt was shot dead while trying to resist the attack. His wife was grabbed and spirited away onboard the pirates’ speedboat. She is believed to have been taken into Somalia.

And on October 1, pirates made another cross-border raid, this time snatching a French woman in her 60s from the holiday home on Manda Island where she lived for part of the year.

Last week, gunmen abducted two Spanish workers for the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) from the Dadaab refugee complex, about 80 kilometers from the Somali border.

Kenya announced its new tactics less than a week after African Union forces claimed a victory against Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

They took the remaining Al-Shabaab strongholds in the far northeast of Mogadishu, the military said Monday.

“It has been a big achievement to remove Al-Shabaab from the city, and put an end to the fighting that disrupted so many lives,” African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said.

“The challenge is now to protect civilians from the sort of terror attack we saw last week, as they attempt to rebuild their lives,” he said.

He was referring to a suicide truck bombing in the heart of Mogadishu that left dozens dead. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.

Other Al-Shabaab attacks that week led to the deaths of at least 10 civilians.

Federal and African Union forces in the impoverished and chaotic nation have battled the group for years. Many analysts believe AMISOM’s military push against Al-Shabaab has severely affected the group, along with targeted strikes against its members and the weakening of al Qaeda.

Al-Shabaab said in August that it was withdrawing from Mogadishu, and Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, backed by African Union peacekeepers, now controls most districts of the capital city, the United Nations office said.

Forces have pushed Al-Shabaab outside most of Mogadishu, but the group is still a major threat, Ankunda said earlier.