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Muslims crown bloody year with heroic act

By Kipchumba Some | December 27th 2015

The bravery of Muslim passengers who put their lives on the line to save their Christian brothers and sisters in Mandera last week could mark a turning point in the fight against terror.

Kenyans across the country have been elated by their bravery, which turned into a powerful expression of the country’s famed religious harmony and tolerance.

The day was Monday and the setting was in the bushes of Elwak, Mandera County, where Al Shabaab gunmen lay in wait under the cover of darkness for a Makkah Bus from Nairobi enroute to Mandera town.

What followed is a story told several times over since then, both by local and international media for the significant symbolism. As the gunmen flagged down the bus, keeping to a script they have used several times, they told the passengers to divide themselves along their religious affiliations.

That script has worked before. Just about a year ago, on the night of November 22, 2014, gunmen hijacked a bus headed to Nairobi from Mandera, separated its passengers along religious lines and killed 28 people, all of them Christians, among them four police officers traveling home for December holidays.

In that incident, petrified Muslim passengers could only watch in horror as their fellow travellers were brutally killed. But on Monday, the script played out differently.

“The militants threatened to shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters. Finally, they gave up and left but warned they would be back,” said Abdi Mohamud, one of the passengers.

Exemplary action

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Faced with an unlikely challenge, the militants retreated but not before killing two people. The courageous act of those Muslims was just what a nation healing from the wounds inflicted by terror needed. Reflecting on the incident, security and anti-terrorism expert George Musamali said the action by the Muslim passengers was “exemplary”.

“We have a mindset that all Muslims and Somalis are sympathetic to Al Shabaab. The action by those on the bus showed otherwise. Terrorism affects all irrespective of religion. That is why government tactics to profile certain communities and give collective punishment every time we are hit are wrong,” he said.

Taking the debate further, he flipped the issue and said: “The big question is would the Christians have stood with Muslims? Christian radicalisation against the extremists is on the rise. The action in Mandera should be a mind changer.”

One of the heartfelt messages about the incident came from journalist Boniface Onger, who has spent most of his life working and living in North Eastern. He has witnessed firsthand how the region has transformed into a hostile territory for “foreigners” due to Al Shabaab.

On his Facebook page he wrote on Monday: “On behalf of the Christian community working and living in North Eastern region especially Mandera County, I wish to extend my gratitude...to the entire Somali and Muslim community. Your stand to dare Shabaab is an early Christmas to us Christians and we thank you sincerely. Today some of us would be mourning for the unimaginable lose but for your bravery...”

Reference point

Professionals from non-Somali communities like medical workers and teachers, and even casual labourers have largely sustained the economy of the North-Eastern which is gradually turning around under the county government system after years of state neglect. Sadly, these well-meaning Kenyans have become easy targets of Al Shabaab.

Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya National Organising Secretary Sheikh Mohammed Khalifa said Al Shabaab was pursuing criminal ends in the name of jihad (holy war).

“We are happy that those Muslims in Mandera showed what true Islam is all about,” he said.

Writing in the Daily Nation on Friday, columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo opined that Monday’s incident set a “Kenyan standard” in which the Muslim response to other jihadi attacks against Christians elsewhere will be measured against.

“In those few minutes when they confronted Al Shabaab, they settled one of the vexing questions that usually follows a terrorist attack by extremist jihadi groups anywhere in the world - how much do they represent Islam?... Now expect that in future whenever there is a terrorist outrage linked to some jihadist, there will be a demand for the “Mandera” or “Kenya standard,” he wrote.

Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru said the incident is a reference point. “I am a staunch Catholic, but I was greatly moved by the selfless act by Muslims who put their necks on the line and refused to be divided by the Al Shabaab.”

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