By BosNewsLife Africa Service
NAIROBI, KENYA (BosNewsLife)-- Somalia-based Islamist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility Saturday, November 22, for killing 28 Christians traveling on a bus in northeast Kenya.
The bus carrying 60 passengers was on its way to Nairobi, the capital, when it was ambushed in Mandera County early Saturday, according to militants and witnesses.
Gunmen reportedly waved down the bus before spraying it with bullets when it did not stop. They then shot a rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle, before commandeering the bus off the road, survivors said.
The militants were seen ordering passengers to leave the vehicle before separating the travellers into Muslims and non-Muslims.
Passengers said militants then ordered the non-Muslims to reboard the bus.
When the bus got stuck in the mud, some ten militants reportedly gathered the prisoners outside before carrying out the executions. They then fled to Somalia.
"The non-Somalis were ordered to read some verses of [Islam's] holy Koran [book]...," recalled passenger Ahmed Mahatsaid. "Those who failed to read were ordered to lie down. One by one they were shot in the head at point blank range."
Three people who were due to be killed were apparently spared after managing to successfully recite some of the verses.
Some, "28 innocent travellers" including 19 men and nine women, "were brutally executed by al-Shabaab," complained regional police chief Noah Mwavinda.
The Mandera region has been flooded with weapons due to its proximity to Somalia, where al-Shabaab has been fighting to topple the government, and Ethiopia, whose armed Oromo Liberation Front has made incursions into Kenya.
RED CROSS STRUGGLING
Kenya's Red Cross said its response team was with security personnel at the scene in an attempt to retrieve bodies.
Al-Shabaab said the attack was carried out "in retaliation" for security raids in mosques in Kenya's second largest city, Mombasa, in the last week.
“The Mujahedeen intercepted a bus, which had on board a group of Christians that enjoyed the killing and the maiming of Muslims,” al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamed Rageh added in a statement read on Radio Andulus, a pro-al-Shabaab broadcaster.
Earlier, four people were stabbed to death in apparent revenge attacks, which saw gangs taking to the streets before beating and knifing their victims.
During the raids in mosques, one person was shot dead and more than 350 people were detained, following a series of bombings and shootings.
Officials said officers seized weapons and found black Islamist flags like those flown by al-Shabaab.
The latest bloodshed added to concerns among Christians in Kenya living near the border with Somalia.
Kenya has suffered a series of Islamic attacks since invading Somalia in 2011 to attack al-Shabaab, later joining an African Union force battling the Islamists.
Al-Shabaab also claimed responsibility last year for an attack on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in which at least 67 people were killed, and for violence in the Lamu region in June and July in which at least 65 people died.
The group, whose leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in September, has pledged to drive Kenyan and other African Union peacekeeping troops out of Somalia. They also have murdered several Christians in Somalia, BosNewsLife reported in recent years.
However in televised remarks, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto said Kenya would not end its struggle against terrorism.
"I want to assure you all that all those responsible for the loss of lives of Kenyans - we will pursue you everywhere, be it in Kenya, be it in Somalia," he said.
Yet, the insecurity in East Africa's biggest economy has prompted Western nations to issue travel warnings.
Analysts say the violence is hitting the tourism industry, a major source of hard currency, and foreign investments.