Mombasa, Kenya, Dec 21 – Islamist gunmen on Saturday opened fire on a passenger bus along the Kenyan coast but fled without injuring anyone, witnesses and officials said, nearly a month after Shebab militants executed 28 non-Muslim bus passengers in the country.
After stopping the bus by shooting its tyres, three of the attackers climbed on board and identified themselves as “mujahedeen” (holy warriors), but then took off after apparently assuming those on the bus were all Muslims, said passenger Abarufa Kokane.
The bus, carrying around 50 passengers, was travelling from the port city of Mombasa to Lamu, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the Somalian border.
The attack happened near the town of Witu, 50 kilometres from Lamu island.
“We thought it is the end of the world,” Kokane said.
“(The passengers) were mainly Muslim women citing (the) Shahadah (the profession of the faith) and verses of the Koran which probably made the gunmen assume we were all Muslims,” he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but in July Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab claimed an assault on a bus near the same town in which seven people were killed.
And on November 22, Shabaab fighters seized a bus near the northeastern border with Somalia and killed 28 of its non-Muslim passengers in what they said was revenge for police raids on mosques in Mombasa.
Lamu county deputy commissioner Fredrick Ndambuki told AFP of Saturday’s incident: “Our soldiers are on the ground hunting down the attackers.”
The resort island of Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been hit by a string of attacks which have left scores dead and frightened off foreign tourists.
Shabaab rebels massacred some 100 people in a series of raids in the Lamu region in June and July.
The unrest has fuelled divisions on the coast, a region where radical Islam, ethnic tensions and land disputes are an explosive cocktail.
Somalia’s Shabaab rebels have vowed to step up attacks on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia as part of the African Union force supporting the country’s fragile government.
Under pressure to crack down on extremist violence, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday approved a controversial new security bill that critics say violates basic freedoms.
The government of the East African nation has faced mounting calls to get tough on terrorism since 67 people were killed last year in a Shabaab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.