Islamic militants with Somalia’s al-Shabaab are suspected of attacking a commuter bus in northeast Kenya on Dec. 21. The attack killed two people and injured at least six others.
A group of Islamist gunmen ambushed the bus, boarded it, and attempted to divide passengers into Muslim and Christian groups. But Muslim passengers refused to cooperate, Reuters reported.
Gov. Ali Roba told Kenya’s Daily Nation they “told the attackers to kill all passengers or leave,” and their courage prevented a repeat of a previous massacre.
One Muslim passenger, Abdi Mohamud Abdi, told Reuters more than 10 al-Shabaab fighters told them to separate from the Christians, but they did not comply.
“We even gave some non-Muslims our religious attire to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily. We stuck together tightly,” Abdi said. “The militants threatened to shoot us, but we still refused and protected our brothers and sisters. Finally they gave up and left but warned that they would be back.”
Another passenger said he told the militants, “we are all Muslims,” knowing that if he didn’t, many people would be killed, Standard Digital Media reported.
Their actions kept the incident from becoming as deadly as a November 2014 bus attack in the same region of Mandera. In that instance, al-Shabaab divided the passengers and killed about 36 non-Muslims, according to KTN News Kenya. The Islamic terror group often separates its hostages into Muslims and non-Muslims to choose its victims. Al-Shabaab claimed the attack was retaliation for a raid on two mosques.
Al-Shabaab fighters also singled out Christians when they stormed Garissa University and took hostages in April 2015, in the group’s deadliest attack ever. The Islamists killed at least 147 people there.
“We commend the Muslims who stood by the Christians when the gang attacked,” Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said. “They showed the terrorists cannot separate us using religion. They cannot cause a religious war, and I thank the passengers and locals.”
At a later news conference, Nkaissery said the Muslims sent a message “for the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans and we are not separated by religion. Everybody can profess his own religion, but we see we are one country, we are one people as a nation.”
A spokesman for International Christian Concern (ICC) called it a “great story,” the kind the world wants to see.
“Certainly, as Christians we believe that our worldview, that Jesus came to save sinners, is the correct worldview,” ICC regional manager Troy Augustine said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t live in peace with one another. I think that’s what this really shows.”
Augustine also said the solidarity demonstrated by Kenyan Muslims showed all Kenyans are tired of al-Shabaab terrorizing their nation and that “their national identity is more important than squabbling over religion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C.)