IslamiST extremists from Somali launched a raid on Kenya where they hijacked a bus with 60 people aboard before executing 28 people for being non-Muslim, some of whom were believed to be heading home for Christmas.
They said the attack yesterday was in revenge for a crackdown by Kenyan security forces earlier in the week.
Nine women and 19 men from the bus were shot dead at close range, despite the bus driver’s brave attempts to flee the gunmen when he refused to stop when flagged down.
He even kept going when the al-Shabaab militants sprayed the vehicle with machine-gun fire, stopping only when they fired a rocket propelled grenade at it instead.
Police called to the scene claimed they were hopelessly outgunned and had to wait for military back-up before they could act, by which point the murders had already taken place.
The al-Shabaab terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack through its radio station in Somalia. A spokesman said it was in retaliation for raids by Kenyan forces earlier this week on four mosques on the Kenyan coast.
The hijacked bus was travelling to the capital Nairobi when it was hijacked at dawn 31 miles from the town of Mandera near Kenya’s border with Somalia.
Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo confirmed the death toll.
Two police officers at the scene said the bus was first waved down but did not stop so the gunmen sprayed it with bullets and when that failed to work they fired an RPG at it.
They said the gunmen commandeered the bus off the road and ordered all the passengers out of the vehicle and separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims from the rest and shot them at close range.
Some of the dead were believed to be civil servants heading to Nairobi for the Christmas vacation.
Kenya has been hit by a series of gun and bomb attacks blamed on al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaeda, since it sent troops into Somalia in October 2011.
Authorities say there have been at least 135 attacks by al-Shabaab since then, including the assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September 2013 in which 67 people were killed.
Al-Shabaab said it was responsible for other attacks on Kenya’s coast earlier this year which killed at least 90 people.
Kenyan troops are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia which is bolstering Somalia’s weak United Nations-backed government against the al-Shabaab insurgency.
Al-Shabaab has continued to carry out attacks in Somalia’s capital despite being pushed out of Mogadishu in August 2011. Somali government troops backed by AU forces are making progress in seizing the remaining al-Shabaab strongholds. Recently, they captured the port town of Barawe.
Al-Shabaab was also dealt a heavy blow when their leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in early September by a US air strike. Godane has been replaced by Ahmed Omar, also known as Abu Ubeid.
Kenya has been struggling to contain growing extremism in the country. Earlier this week the authorities shut down four mosques on the Kenyan coast after police alleged that raids had uncovered explosives and a gun.
Some Muslims believe the police planted the weapons. On Friday, Kheled Khalifa, a human rights official, warned that methods being used to tackle extremism by the government would increase support for radicals.
One person was killed during a raid targeting two mosques on Monday. Police said they shot dead a young man trying to hurl a grenade at them. The government had previously said the four mosques were recruitment centres for al-Shabaab.