‘Playing dead’ saves man from al-Shabab gunmen

Al'Shabab insurgents ambushed a Nairobi'bound bus near Kenya's border with Somalia, killing 28 people, all non'Muslims. Picture: Reuters
Al'Shabab insurgents ambushed a Nairobi'bound bus near Kenya's border with Somalia, killing 28 people, all non'Muslims. Picture: Reuters
Share this article
Have your say

ONE gunman shot from the right, one from the left, each killing the non-Muslims lying in a line on the ground, growing closer and closer to Douglas Ochwodho, who was in the middle.

And then the shooting stopped. Apparently each gunman thought the other shot Mr Ochwodho. He lay perfectly still until the 20 Islamic extremists left, and he appears to be the only survivor among those who had been selected for death.

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn on Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.

Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, Mr Ochwodho said.

Nineteen men and nine women were killed in the bus attack, said Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo.

Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings through its radio station in Somalia, saying it was in retaliation for raids by Kenyan security forces carried out last week on four mosques at the Kenyan coast.

Kenya’s military said it responded to the killings with airstrikes later on Saturday that destroyed the attackers’ camp in Somalia and killed 45 rebels.

The bus travelling to the capital, Nairobi, with 60 passengers was hijacked about 31 miles from the town of Mandera near Kenya’s border with Somalia, said two police officers.

The attackers first tried to wave the bus down but it did not stop so the gunmen sprayed it with bullets, said the police. When that did not work they shot a rocket-propelled grenade at it, the officers said.

The gunmen took control of the vehicle and forced it off the road where they ordered the passengers out of the vehicle, separating those who appeared to be non-Muslims – mostly non-Somalis – from the rest.

The survivor, Mr Ochwodho, a non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera, said he was travelling home for the Christmas holiday since school had closed.

Mr Ochwodho said that the passengers who did not look Somali were separated from the others and asked to recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed declaring oneness with God. Those who could not do so, including Mr Ochwodho, were ordered to lie down.

Two gunmen started shooting those on the ground; one gunman started from the left, the other from the right, he said. When they reached him they were confused as to whether either had shot him, he said.

Mr Ochwodho lay still until the gunmen left, he said. He then ran back to the road and got a lift from a pick-up truck back to Mandera. He spoke from a hospital bed where he was being treated for shock.

Seventeen of the 28 dead were teachers, according to the police commander in Mandera County.

A shortage of personnel and lack of equipment led to a slow response by police when the information was received, said two police officers. They said the attackers have more sophisticated weaponry than the police, who waited for military reinforcements before responding.

Kenya has been hit by a series of gun and bomb attacks blamed on al-Shabab, who are linked to al-Qaeda, since it sent troops into Somalia in October 2011. Authorities say there have been at least 135 attacks by al-Shabab since then, including the assault on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September 2013 in which 67 people were killed. Al-Shabab said it carried out attacks on Kenya’s coast earlier this year which killed at least 90 people.