MOGADISHU, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Somali militants linked to al Qaeda warned Kenya on Wednesday it faced a "long, gruesome" war, five days before Kenyans vote for a new president and legislature.
The al Shabaab rebel group, which is battling Kenyan troops deployed in southern Somalia under an African peacekeeping mandate, said Kenya was at a crossroads to decide whether it wanted further violence, or peace.
"If you continue upon the path of war, then bear in mind that we are strong-willed men who fight upon the command of Allah," al Shabaab said in an emailed statement.
Kenyans vote on Monday, but none of the eight presidential candidates contesting the close-fought March 4 poll have said they would pull troops out of neighbouring Somalia.
Al Shabaab did not mention the elections in the statement but referred to "the changing political climate" as the key to "a future that involves less bloodshed".
Kenya, east Africa's biggest economy, has been rocked by a surge in bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootings since Nairobi sent its forces into Somalia in October 2011, blaming some on al Shabaab and its local sympathisers.
Under pressure from an African Union-led military offensive, al Shabaab has steadily lost territory and influence in Somalia over the past 18 months, but remains the biggest threat to regional stability. It has, however, failed to deliver on threats to carry out a spectacular attack in Kenya.
Kenya's military intervention in Somalia earned widespread popular backing at home and has barely featured in election campaigning that has been dominated by domestic issues such as land ownership and ethnic rivalries.
"There is very little prospect now that things will improve or that you will recuperate from the constant dread of attacks," al Shabaab said.
"We will do whatever is necessary to defend our lands from invasion and defend our religion from disbelievers."
There was no immediate response from the Nairobi government. (Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough in Nairobi; Editing by Jon Hemming)