Kenyan Muslims refused to let militants execute Christians during a bus attack

Passengers in Mandera, boarding a bus to Nairobi. Al-Shabab militants have staged several attacks in the area.
Passengers in Mandera, boarding a bus to Nairobi. Al-Shabab militants have staged several attacks in the area.
Image: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
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An attempted militant attack on Monday (Dec. 21) on a bus heading to Mandera, a small town in northeast Kenya on the border with Somalia, was foiled after Muslim passengers refused to comply with the attackers’ demands that they identify Christians amongst them and thereby saving them from almost certain death.

“The militants threatened to shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters,” Abdi Mohamud Abdi, one of the passengers, told Reuters. ”We even gave some non-Muslims our religious attire to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily. We stuck together tightly.”

While negotiating the impasse, a lorry came up behind the bus and spooked the attackers who hid behind a nearby bush suspecting that it was police officers. This momentary opening gave the passengers the chance to run back onto the bus and speed away.

Nevertheless, a traffic cop in the lorry and a fleeing conductor were killed by the militants. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Separating Muslims and non-Muslims during attacks has become a signature of al-Shabaab. Earlier this year, individuals affiliated with the group stormed the dorms at Garissa University, a small college in northern Kenya, and killed 147 students. Witnesses recalled gunmen separating non-Muslim students from their Muslim colleagues and killing them. In November last year, the group claimed responsibility for the killing of 28 people, also on a bus in Mandera. Then, the attackers also ordered non-Muslim passengers off the bus and proceeded to shoot them at close range, execution style.

This time, however, Muslims refused to abide by their demands. “The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other by insisting that the al Shabaab should kill them together or leave them alone,” Ali Roba, the governor of Mandera, told local media.

Kenya has been grappling with attacks from al-Shabaab for a few years now ever since it sent its army in Somalia to defeat the group. That effort continues but it has come at a cost for East Africa’s largest economy with hundreds of its own citizens becoming targets of attacks by the Qaeda affiliated group while also scaring away tourists, a bedrock of the country’s economy.