Mandera, Kenya: Somalia’s Al Shabaab insurgents have claimed responsibility for yesterday’s attack on a bus that left 28 people dead in Mandera County.
The attackers allegedly separated non-Muslim passengers from the Nairobi-bound bus, before leading them outside where they were shot at close range.
Through a statement by spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, Al Shabaab claimed responsibility. “The Mujahideen successfully carried out an operation near Mandera early this morning, which resulted in the perishing of 28 crusaders, as a revenge for the crimes committed by the Kenyan crusaders against our Muslim brethren in Mombasa,” Sheikh Ali said.
Early this week, police in Mombasa shot dead a man and arrested over 376 others when they searched four mosques in Mombasa that they said were used to recruit militants and stash weapons. Islamist militants use the term “crusaders” to describe Christians or non-Muslims in general.
Survivors said the militia gave the Muslim passengers a lecture before releasing and allowing them to walk 15km to Arabia trading centre. The survivors said the attackers asked them to stop being “cowards” and instead defend Islam to secure “tenancy” in paradise.
The militia allegedly told the passengers in a lecture that lasted between 15 and 20 minutes that the Kenyan Government had declared war on the minority Muslim community in the country through profiling Muslims and the closure of three mosques in Mombasa.
“A true Muslim who has the dream of going to paradise has not been given an opportunity by infidels in the State of Kenya which has now closed mosques like Sakina, Musa and Swafaa,” one of the attackers allegedly said.
“There is no better time to die for the course of Allah, to secure an easy ticket to paradise. We must fight those persecuting Muslims and closing our places of worship like rats found in a granary,” one of the attakers, referred to as Amir (the leader) by his colleagues, is reported to have said.
A 25-year-old passenger, who identified himself only as Ibrahim, said the bus driver tried to evade the attackers by speeding away when they were first ambushed.
“The driver managed to evade three ambushes, but later gave up when some bullets hit one of the passengers. He feared that many of the passengers would die if he kept on speeding as the chances of escaping was made minimal by subsequent ambushes ahead,” he said.
Ibrahim said one of the passengers hit by the indiscriminate gunshots when the driver defied orders to stop died inside the bus, while the other 27 were executed later after they were picked out of the others in a parade.
“After the bus came to a halt, all passengers were put into two groups. One for those they thought were Muslims and those they thought were not. They then started lecturing the Muslim group, extensively quoting verses from the Quran. One of the verses they quoted says: ‘Fight them; Allah will punish them by your hands and will disgrace them and give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts of a believing people’,” Ibrahim recalled.
Inspector General David Kimaiyo told reporters that 19 men and nine women were killed in the attack. “Preliminary reports indicate that the attackers, who were heavily armed, later fled across the border into Somalia,” he said.
A witness to the ambush, who asked not to be identified, said the attackers entered the bus and greeted passengers before separating Muslims from non-Muslims.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
Ahmed Maalim, an official at the Mandera East sub-county security force, said the attackers ordered the passengers they had profiled as non-Muslims out of the bus. Three were spared after reciting Koran verses and ordered back into the bus.
“The women and men (who remained outside) were separated, then shot at close range. None survived,” Maalim said.
Ibrahim said two passengers categorised as non-Muslim narrowly escaped death after they told the attackers they were converts. “The two protested that they were Muslim to the menacing militia. They were given an oral test where they were asked about procedures of prayers and to recite the Surah Fatih, a common verse in all Islamic prayers,” he said.
The survivor, who was among those standing inside the bus since he could not secure a seat but had to travel, said the militia praised Muslim clerics and youth in Mombasa, describing them as brave Muslims who had embraced the true teaching of Jihad.
He said the assailants were fluent in English, Kiswahili and Somali, which they used interchangeably. They cried as they recited verses from the Holy Quran. “They told us to join the cause of Allah like our brothers from Mombasa. They claimed that African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom) soldiers led by the Kenya defense forces (KDF) were abusing Somali women as documented by international human rights bodies and Muslims were being prosecuted in Kenya,” Ibrahim recalled.
‘Don’t die as cowards!” they are reported to have shouted repeatedly.
According to a statement sent to newsrooms yesterday at around 9am, KDF pursued the attackers from the air. The attackers camp, located in Somalia, was destroyed.
“Ground troops are in hot pursuit of the fleeing attackers,” the statement said.
“In another operation today (yesterday) at 10am, KDF attacked and destroyed an Al Shabaab camp at Shattadud, 18km north of Bulla Gadud and 25km west of Jamame,” the statement said.
During the operation, 45 Al Shabaab militiamen were killed, six technicals destroyed and some of the militia injured.
- Additional reporting by Reuters.