GARISSA, Kenya: Somalia’s Shebab Islamists on Saturday ambushed a bus in Kenya, killing 28 non-Muslim passengers in what they said was a revenge attack for police raids on mosques in the troubled port city of Mombasa.
“I can confirm… that 28 innocent travellers were brutally executed by the Shebab,” regional police chief Noah Mwavinda told AFP.
The gunmen ambushed the bus in the early morning as it headed for the capital Nairobi from 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, and the gunmen separated the travellers into Muslims and non-Muslims.
The militants then had the non-Muslims reboard the bus and tried to drive off with them, 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 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.
A Shebab spokesman said the bus attack was in retribution for the raids on the mosques, which further hiked simmering tensions in the city.
“The Mujahedeen 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,” Ali Mohamud Rage said in a statement sent to AFP.
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 business trading 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.