22 Dec 2015

Muslims shield Christians from gunmen

8:52 am on 22 December 2015

A group of Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen in Kenya has protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups.

A local governor said they told the militants to kill them together or leave them alone.

People carry wooden crosses to Freedom Corner in Nairobi in April during a gathering for the victims of an attack claimed by Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab insurgents on a university campus in Garissa, Kenya in which 148 people were killed. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBA

People carry wooden crosses in Nairobi in April for the 148 victims of an attack claimed by al-Shabaab Photo: AFP

At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.

The Somali-based al-Shabaab group said it carried out the attack.

When al-Shabaab killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College in April, the militants reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims.

The group often carries out attacks in Kenya's north-east.

The bus was travelling from the capital Nairobi to the town of Mandera.

Last year, a bus was attacked near Mandera by al-Shabaab militants, who killed 28 non-Muslims travelling to Nairobi for the Christmas holidays.

"The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other," Mandera governor Ali Roba told Kenya's private Daily Nation newspaper.

The militants decided to leave after the passengers' show of unity, he added.

An employee of the Makkah bus company, who had spoken to the driver involved in the attack, confirmed that Muslims had refused to be separated from their fellow Christian passengers.

One of the victims was shot dead after trying to run away from the militants after passengers had been forced off the bus, the same employee told the BBC's Bashkas Jugsodaay in Nairobi.

Hundreds gathered in Paris on April 8 2015 to pay tribute to the 148 victims of an al-Shabaab militant attack on students at Garissa university in Kenya CITIZENSIDE/BERNARD MÉNIGAULT

Hundreds gathered in Paris in April to pay tribute to the 148 victims of an al-Shabab attack on university students in Kenya Photo: AFP

The passengers on the bus showed great bravery, but there was another quality revealed by their surprising decision to stand up to the gunmen: frustration.

The majority of the local population in the north-east are Kenyan Muslims of Somali descent, and they have been hit hard by the consequences of al-Shabaab attacks, even if non-Muslims are supposedly the main target of the Somali militant group.

An attack last year in Mandera, in which Christians were killed after being separated from Muslims, caused the departure of more than 2000 teachers, as well as many health workers who had come from other parts of the country.

Perhaps the passengers felt that the region could simply not afford another such attack.

It will be interesting to see if their actions embolden local populations to increase their resistance to al-Shabab, which has attacked the area several times.

Al-Shabaab has been at war with Kenya ever since Kenyan forces entered Somalia in October 2011 in an effort to crush the militants.

Kenya's north-eastern region has a large population of ethnic Somalis.


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