Passengers killed as Shaabab attack three buses in Lamu

Although authorities put the number of the dead at three, multiple interviews with witnesses indicated that the number could be much higher.

Over 50 gunmen believed to be Al-Shaabab militants yesterday waylaid three buses at Nyongore near Witu, Lamu County and killed an unknown number of people and abducted others.

Police said the buses were attacked by armed gunmen believed to be members of Al-Shabaab's Kenyan cell, Jeysh Aymanare.

They forced passengers out of the buses, profiled them on the basis of their religion, and shot dead those from the Christian faith.

The buses were heading to Lamu from Mombasa when the attack occurred at about 12.30pm.

Although authorities put the number of the dead at three, multiple interviews with witnesses indicated that the number could be much higher.

By the time of going to press, there were reports that Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) soldiers had killed three suspects and taken one hostage.

Abubakar Ahmed, the driver of one of the ill-fated buses, said the militants ordered the buses to stop and passengers to alight and lie on their stomach on the ground.

He said they then asked each passenger to recite the Shahada, a creed declaring belief in the oneness of their God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God's prophet.

“They asked us three questions: one we recite the Shahada, secondly, who is our prophet? And lastly, who is our God?” said Ahmed, the Simba bus driver.

He added: "Those who were unable to recite the Shahada were shot at close range from behind."

The three buses left Mombasa between 6:30am and 7:30am but converged at Minjila area for a shared police escort.

The three buses belong to Simba Bus Limited, TSS Bus and Mombasa Raha Company. Yesterday, the TSS driver said one of his passengers was shot.

"One of my passengers was killed," said TSS driver Abdi Hussein Abdi.

Simba Bus assistant manager Abdallah Mohammed confirmed that their conductor was among the three victims killed by the militants after "he was unable to recite Shahada".

He said the militants targeted male passengers.

Mombasa Raha driver Raymond Juma said he saw a van parked on the roadside at Nyangore area with with its window screens open.

He said as he approached, he saw six armed men standing on the left and right side of the van. The armed men started to shot in the air, he said.

“As we approached they shot in the in air and ordered me to stop the bus," said Mr Juma who claimed he disobeyed the militants and sped off. 

“At about 100 meters from the van,I stopped the bus and asked the passengers to alight and run into the bush. They passenger fled into the forest,” he said.

Lamu County Commissioner Samson Macharia said bodies of three passengers were at the scene of the crime, noting that two passengers were yet to be accounted for.

Mr Macharia said the bodies were taken to Witu hospital mortuary, adding that one of the injured was in a critical condition with bullets lodged in his arm and torso. 

“We have spoken to our driver and he has confirmed to us that ‘Tyson’ who is our bus conductor was shot dead by the suspects after he was unable to recite the Shahada,” said Mohamed.

He described him as a dedicated and hardworking employee who had served the company for close to eight years.

It is not clear why the said escort failed to respond swiftly but police sources claimed that the number of attackers was high compared to the officers who were escorting the three buses.

“Unlike other escorts where there are two Land Cruisers, one in front and the other behind, this time we had only one which was trailing the buses,” said one of the passenger. 

Sparked fear

The attack sparked fear in Tana River which has in the recent times not witnessed terror attacks targeting public transport.

Normally, the buses plying the rout are escorted by 10 police officers. The police escort accompanied a military armoured vehicle starts from Minjila to Gamba.

At Gamba, two police cars, one in front and another behind escort the buses to Mokowe jetty. Yesterday’s attack took place between Nyangore, Mokowe and Gamba.

Lamu and Tana River counties have since 2011 experienced terror-related attacks linked Somali based Al Shabaab remnants operating from the expansive Boni forest.

Yesterday, Simba Bus assistant manager said the incident had paralysed transport in Lamu at a time schools are about to open.