GARISSA, Kenya: Gunmen seized a bus in northeastern Kenya near the Somali border early Saturday and executed 28 non-Muslim passengers, in an ambush the police blamed on the Shebab Islamic extremists.
The latest attack allegedly carried out by Islamists on Kenyan soil comes after a week in which police raids on mosques in the port city of Mombasa hiked simmering tensions in the troubled city.
“I can confirm… that 28 innocent travellers were brutally executed by the Shebab,” regional police chief Noah Mwavinda told AFP, referring to the Somali militant group.
The gunmen ambushed the bus headed for the capital Nairobi a few kilometres after it left Mandera, a town that lies right on the border with Somalia in Kenya’s northeasternmost corner.
Some 60 passengers on board were ordered off the vehicle, with the gunmen separating the travellers into groups of Muslims and non-Muslims.
The militants then boarded the bus again with the non-Muslims and tried to drive off, but the vehicle got stuck.
“So they executed their prisoners” before escaping back into Somalia, Mwavinda said.
Kenya’s Red Cross confirmed the death toll in a tweet after its team arrived at the scene.
The executions came after a week that saw one person shot dead and more than 350 people arrested as Kenyan security forces carried out raids on mosques in the port city of Mombasa, looking for arms and Shebab sympathisers.
Police seized weapons and found black Islamist flags like those flown by the Shebab in the raids.
Four people were stabbed to death in apparent revenge attacks on Monday, with gangs taking to the streets beating some and knifing others after the raids that raised tensions in a city hit by a string of bombings and shootings.
Kenya has suffered a series of attacks since invading Somalia in 2011 to attack the Shebab, later joining an African Union force battling the Islamists.
The Shebab carried out the September 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, killing at least 67 people as a warning to Kenya to pull its troops out of southern Somalia.
During the Westgate attack, some of the victims were killed after the gunmen weeded out non-Muslims for execution by demanding they recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.
The Shebab has lost a series of key towns and ports to the AU force and Somalian government army, heralded as advances that would stem the militants’ multi-million dollar trade of charcoal to Gulf countries.
But in a recent report, UN investigators warned that the air and drone strikes on the militia have done little to damage it in the long term and that the insurgents continue to pose a serious regional threat.
Indeed, pressure on the fighters has forced them to “become more operationally audacious by placing greater emphasis on exporting its violence beyond the borders of Somalia” and across the Horn of Africa, said an October report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.