At least 48 people have been killed after suspected al-Shabab armed fighters attacked Mpeketoni, a coastal town in Kenya's Lamu county, and set fire to three hotels and a police station, reports say.

The area is in the heart of the East African country's tourism industry.

Analysis with Al Jazeera's Hamza Mohamed

The attackers targeted several buildings on Sunday, including hotels, a bank and a police station, David Kimaiyo, head of Kenyan police forces, was quoted by AP news agency as saying.

"I can confirm that 14 people were killed in the Mpeketoni attack [last] night," Zipporah Mboroki, Kenyan police spokeswoman, told Reuters news agency by telephone.

"Attackers hijacked a van from Witu town which they used for the attacks. They raided Mpeketoni police station first and opened fire," Hamaton Mwaliko, Mpeketoni area administration police chief, said.

"Some hotels in the town are on fire. We don't know how many casualties are there for now. We understand the attackers have already fled but our officers are pursuing them."

Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter that it suspected the Somalia-based armed group al-Shabab, which has been blamed for previous violence in Kenya, of being behind the latest attack.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Nairobi on Sunday, said the attack did not target foreigners in Kenya.

"Attacks frequently carried out by al-Shabab target foreigners, but the latest one targeted locals in a small town," she said.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in late 2011, after al-Shabab fighters carried out a series of raids on Kenyan soil. 

Al-Shabab, which has fought a seven-year campaign to impose its interpretation of Islamic law inside Somalia, has said it wants to take revenge for Kenya's deployment of troops in the Horn of Africa nation.

Kenya has seen a drop in tourist arrivals in recent months following several shootings and grenade attacks blamed on al-Shabab or its sympathisers.

In May, explosions in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa led the UK, US, France and Australia to issue warnings about travel to Kenya, and at least 400 tourists cut short their holidays and left hotels along the Indian Ocean coast.

Kenya called the alerts "unfriendly", saying they would increase panic and play into the hands of those behind the assaults.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies