By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya — Somali Islamist militants sprayed a Kenyan bus with bullets on Monday, killing two people, but a passenger said he and fellow Muslims defied demands from the attackers to help identify Christians traveling with them.
The attack took place in Mandera, in northeast Kenya. A year ago, Al Shabaab gunmen stormed a Nairobi-bound bus in the same area and killed 28 non-Muslim passengers execution-style.
Abdi Mohamud Abdi, a Muslim who was among the passengers in Monday's incident, told Reuters that more than 10 Al Shabaab militants boarded the bus and ordered the Muslim passengers to split away from the Christians, but they refused.
"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," he said.
"The militants threatened to shoot us but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters. Finally they gave up and left but warned that they would be back," he said.
In previous attacks, Al Shabaab has often killed both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Julius Otieno, the deputy county commissioner, confirmed the account, saying that the militants "were trying to identify who were Muslims and who were not," and that the Muslim passengers had refused to help.
The militants then fled the scene, both men said.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, Al Shabaab’s military spokesman, said the group had fired shots at the bus.
"Some of the Christian enemies died and others were injured," he told Reuters in a statement. The militants did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the role of Muslim bus passengers during the attack.
The 2014 bus attack shocked Kenya and led to a shake-up of security ministers. Since then, buses carrying passengers from Mandera have been given police escorts, but Kenya Police spokesman Charles Owino said that had not happened in this case because the bus had bypassed a police roadblock.
Owino said that in addition to the two deaths, four people were wounded.
Al Shabaab has said it will continue its attacks on Kenya until Nairobi withdraws troops from an African Union force fighting the militants in Somalia. It has also said northeastern Kenya should be part of Somalia.
Kenya's long northeastern border with Somalia is widely considered a security weak spot. Factors include poor coordination between security services, and a culture of corruption that allows anyone prepared to pay a bribe to pass unchallenged.
(Reporing by Joseph Akwiri; Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)