Four Kenyans killed in assault on Nairobi bound bus near Somalia border
NAIROBI, Kenya - Four passengers in a Nairobi-bound bus were on Wednesday killed by suspected Al-Shabaab militants, authorities said, in the latest daring attack targeting travelers.
The unknown number of militants tried to flag down a Moyale Raha bus around Banisa town, although the driver defied their order, leading to a shootout.
And the militants managed to deflate the bus' tyres, after which four passengers were brutally killed as the rest took refuge in nearby bushes, witnesses said.
While executing the murder, passengers were segregated, with non-locals bearing the brunt of the attack, officials said, without giving many details.
A local, however, who is believed to be a son to a prominent businessman, was also killed during the standoff, as he tried to save the rest, witnesses said.
Route considered safest
Moyale Raha company plays the Mandera-Banisa-Takaba-Moyale route, which is considered the safest given the tight security along the road.
The company confirmed the deadly attack, the first of it's kind targeting their vehicle, despite having been in business for several years.
"We are told the gunmen shot at the tyres but the driver sped off only to get into more gunfire ahead," one of the officials said.
Mohamed, one of the survivors, said two gunmen disguised in police uniforms, tried to stop the bus but the driver ignored their order.
Mohamed said more gunmen jumped from the bush and sprayed the bus with bullets, deflating its tyres instantly, forcing the driver to stand.
The attack took place around 200 kilometers West of Mandera town, raising questions about the supposed infiltration by the militants to interior parts of the country.
Security forces pursue gunmen
Many passengers prefer the route to Mandera-Rhamu-El Wak-Wajir road, which is constantly under surveillance by the militants due to proximity to Somalia.
For the better part of Wednesday, security forces within the region intensified crackdown, as they pursued the militants.
“We have launched investigations to know who exactly the perpetrators are in this incident,” said Mandera County Commissioner Onesmus Kyatha.
According to the county boss, locals could be harboring the militants given the distance from the porous Kenya-Somalia border.
“This incident does not mean armed criminals suspected to be Al-Shabaab militants are taking charge of Mandera North Sub-County," he said.
Attacks on passenger vehicles common
But Wednesday's attack is one of many targeting passenger vehicles in Northern Frontier Districts [NFD], with Al-Shabaab militants often taking responsibility.
In December last year, Al-Shabaab militants flagged down a Mandera-bound bus in Wajir, killing eleven passengers instantly.
Most of those killed were police officers headed to their patrol base in Laffey sub-county in Mandera and two teachers, police said.
But previously, the gunmen had also attacked another bus in Rhamu, killing over 21 people mostly teachers in December 2014.
Early this year, the armed militants also flagged down another bus in Lamu County, Southeast part of Kenya, killing three people during the attack.
Al-Shabaab menace, a blow to NFDs
Although there has been a concerted effort to crush the militants, security forces are yet to effectively handle the threat in the region.
Over 800 non-local teachers have already deserted the region due to frequent attacks, further paralyzing education in the marginalized area.
Also on the verge of leaving the region are civil servants mainly doctors, a move that could further stagnate service delivery to locals.
Mandera Governor Ali Roba described terror as an evil that needed to be fought by all to enable the county to move on.
“For the last seven years, we have suffered a lot as a result of terrorism and radicalization. The challenges of terror have created alienation of our region,” he said.
Leaders from northeastern had met in January, where they asked the government to allow locals to be armed as part of a strategy to flush out the militants.
But the government has often asked locals to cooperate with security forces in tracing the militants, some who are believed to be well known to residents.