A group of Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Al-Shabaab gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups.
Witnesses and authorities said militants who had taken control of a bus after spraying bullets at it tried to split Muslims from Christians but the former refused.
They wanted to slaughter Christians.
Instead, the Muslims told the militants to kill them together or leave them alone, witnesses said.
Another witness said the Muslims lied to the militants that a police lorry was escorting the bus and that they would come under attack if they continued with their mission.
It was then that the militants abandoned their mission fearing a confrontation with security officials and saved the lives of many.
But they had killed a passenger who was on board the Makka bus as it raced to Mandera from Nairobi Monday at 6.45 am.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said the bus had stalled after the driver was shot and injured between Kotulo and El-Wak.
“We commend the Muslims who stood by the Christians when the gang attacked. They showed the terrorists cannot separate us using religion. They cannot cause a religious war and I thank the passengers and locals,” said Nkaissery.
He said Al-Shabaab remains the main suspect in the attack. And after the gang had abandoned the bus to proceed with their journey, they attacked another lorry that was trailing few kilometres from the scene and killed one person.
Nkaissery said a police landcruiser that is supposed to be escorting the vehicles using the route had broken down.
“The police vehicle had broken down and the drivers decided to proceed with their journeys without a police escort. It is unfortunate at least two died,” said Nkaissery.
Another witness who identified himself as Abdirahiman said Muslims in the bus removed their Muslim attires and handed them to the Christians who were present.
“The driver had tried to drive off but was forced to stop. We gave the Christians who were present our Muslim clothes to cover themselves as a way of ensuring none died in the bus,” said the witness on the phone.
A similar attack on a bus last year in November left more than 30 people dead, which sparked an outrage.
The attack is the latest in the area. Last week, a police escort team engaged gunmen in a shootout after they had tried to hijack buses that were being escorted. The area is near Somalia where there are many Al-Shabaab militants.
Two weeks ago, the same group set up a landmine that hit and damaged a military lorry in the same area. Officials say there is growing number of militants near the border and have been calling for enhanced patrols by the military.