As many as 11 Christians were killed in a Dec. 6 bus attack carried out by the Somali-based radical Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab in Kenya, according to a Christian persecution watchdog group.
Police said a group of armed men ambushed a bus traveling from Nairobi to Mandera, a region on the border of Somalia with a large ethnic Somali population.
Wajir County Police Commander Stephen Ngetich told news outlets that the terrorists stopped the bus between Kutulo and Wargadud areas in Wajir County then separated locals from non-local passengers before executing victims.
Reported details of the attack are somewhat inconsistent as the president’s office said that eight people were killed and sources told AFP that 10 people were killed, most of whom were police officers.
Al-Shabaab, a jihadi organization that has fought for years to overthrow the Somali government, claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group has been known to carry out attacks on both the Kenya and Somalia sides of the border.
According to Qatari government run news outlet Al Jazeera, Al-Shabaab claimed its victims included "secret security agents and government employees."
An unnamed Kenyan police officer told the United States-based nonprofit persecution watchdog group International Christian Concern that the victims were killed for failing to recite the Islamic declaration of faith.
“A passenger bus belonging to Medina Bus Company, traveling between Wajir and Mandera, was attacked by a criminal gang at around [5:30 p.m.] this evening,” the police officer was quoted as saying. “The attack happened at Maadathe area, 5 kilometers [ 3 miles] to Kutulo.”
Morning Star News, a nonprofit group devoted to covering global issues of Christian persecution, reported that 56 people were on board the bus when it was attacked. According to a witness who spoke with the news outlet, assailants separated 11 Kenyan workers from the ethnic Somali passengers on the bus.
“One of the Muslim men gave me Somali attire, and when the separation was being done I went to the side of the Muslims, and immediately we were told to get into the bus,” the survivor was quoted as saying. “As the locals were getting back into the bus, the non-locals who were left behind were fired upon with gunshots.”
ICC reported that at least nine Christian were killed and two other non-local Christians who are missing are believed to be dead.
The nonprofit shared the victims' names: Athanus Kiti, Enos Odhiambo, Kelvin Mandela, Wisely Meli, Tikane Kasale, Leonard Mukanda, Francis Mbuvi, Rodgers Machuka, and Anchari Okerosi.
According to a source who spoke with Morning Star News, two of the victims were evangelical teachers, three were said to be Catholics and another victim was a doctor who was a member of an Africa Inland Church congregation.
Although ICC reports that at 11 of the victims were said to be Christians, the Morning Star News report states that the religious affiliation of five victims has yet to be determined.
A statement released by Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office condemned the attacks and assured that security forces are pursuing the assailants.
“[T]he government will not relent in its ruthless crackdown on criminal elements including suspected terrorists in its solemn duty to safeguard the lives and property of Kenyans,” the statement reads. “The head of state further sends a strong warning and reminder to misguided elements operating within and outside of our national borders and whose actions harm innocent Kenyans that no effort will be spared in neutralizing the threat.”
In addition to the bus attack in Wajir, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Tuesday. CNN reports that at least three civilians, two soldiers and five militants were killed in a gunfight at the upscale SYL hotel.
In August, a group of concerned Muslims reportedly thwarted an Al-Shabaab attack against Christians at a construction site in Kutulo, Kenya.
In 2018, Al-Shabaab militants attacked a bus headed for the Kenyan town of Garissa, killing two Christians who refused to recite the Lord’s prayer.
Arguably Al-Shabaab’s most notorious attack came in April 2015 when gunmen stormed Garissa University College and separated Muslims students from Christians students. At least 148 people were killed in the attack.
Kenya ranks as the 40th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List. Meanwhile, Somalia ranks as the third-worst country in the world.
“Al-Shabab regards Christians with a Muslim background as high-value targets,” an Open Doors fact sheet on Somalia reads. “Believers who left Islam to follow Jesus are often killed on the spot when discovered. Al-Shabab has continuously expressed its desire to eradicate Christians from the country.”