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World

Islamist Al Shabab Militants Kill 28 In Kenya Bus Attack

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Kenya has been reeling from terrorist attacks since last year's assault on a Nairobi shopping mall. Islamist militants have targeted Kenya since it went on the offensive against them by sending troops into Somalia three years ago. And now, another attack ahead of the traditional break for the holiday season. Somali gunmen from the group al-Shabab forcibly boarded a commuter bus in northeastern Kenya and shot dead 28 non-Muslims. Many of the passengers were headed home ahead of Christmas.

NPR's Gregory Warner has been following this story from our bureau in Nairobi.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: This happened on the northeastern tip of Kenya in Mandera County, close to the border with Somalia and this was the weekend and when droves of civil servants who are not native to this county were planning to leave Mandera, travel home to the holiday break. This Saturday, gunman from the Islamist Somali group al-Shabab crossed over the border from Somalia. They tried to intercept a big public bus, it refused stop. They then shot at the bus, it still didn't stop and then they fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the bus. It stopped and they boarded. At that point they singled out every passenger who looked to be non-Muslim. They ordered them outside. Those who could not recite the shahada prayer were laid down in the dust by the roadside and shot. Most of the 28 dead were women. Seven were elementary school teachers and then the gunmen waved down the driver to continue his journey and they escaped back over the border.

CORNISH: Now, Kenya's military says it's crossed into Somalia in pursuit of these militants and killed a hundred al-Shabab fighters that they suspect have involvement in the attack. al-Shabab's already dismissed this claim as absurd. What's been the reaction in Kenya?

WARNER: I would say that Kenyans care more about protection than retaliation and instead of a counterattack in a foreign Muslim country, I think most people I've spoken to would have rather have read that police showed up on the scene in Kenya and saved people. This ordeal at the bus lasted two hours. Police were called and they didn't show up. In fact, the same thing happened last year when security forces were grossly late responding to the attack at Westgate Shopping Mall while people were killed - and that attack didn't take place on a remote border highway, but in the center of the capital so I would say the feeling in Kenya is vulnerability. In Mandera County specifically, you have hospital workers, school teachers, pledging to leave Mandera and not come back.

CORNISH: Finally Gregory, what's the government's strategy to stop these attacks?

WARNER: Well, one very public strategy that the government has employed to deal with the threat of terrorism on the coastline has been to carry out raids on certain mosques they say are harboring extremist preachers who preach jihad. Now, by raid I mean the police literally come in, arrest almost everybody and then sometimes kill people. Whether that's reduced terrorism, it's not clear. What it has done though is that in every Somali marketplace, both in Kenya and in Somalia, you can buy video footage that shows muddy police boots entering this holy place. These videos stir resentment, they stir anger and some say that this Kenyan counterterrorism strategy has actually been the terrorists' best recruitment tool.

CORNISH: Gregory Warner. He's NPR's East Africa correspondent. He spoke to us from Nairobi.

Thank you so much.

WARNER: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.