Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in bus attack by Al-Shabaab militants

MOMBASA, Kenya (REUTERS) - A group of Muslim passengers on a bus ambushed by Somali Islamist militants defied demands to help identify Christians travelling with them.

The Al-Shabaab militants sprayed the bus with bullets during the attack on Monday (Dec 21) in Mandera, north-east Kenya, killing two people.

Mr Abdi Mohamud Abdi, one of the Muslim passengers, said more than 10 militants boarded the bus and ordered the Muslims to split away from the Christians, but they refused.

"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," he said.

In previous attacks, Al-Shabaab militants had often killed both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Mr Julius Otieno, the deputy county commissioner, confirmed the account, saying that the militants "were trying to identify who were Muslims and who were not," and that the Muslim passengers had refused to help.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military spokesman, said the group had fired shots at the bus.

"Some of the Christian enemies died and others were injured," he told Reuters in a statement. The militants did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the role of Muslim bus passengers during the attack.

Last year, Al-Shabaab gunmen stormed a Nairobi-bound bus in the same area and killed 28 non-Muslim passengers execution-style.

The attack shocked Kenya and led to a shake-up of security ministers. Since then, buses carrying passengers from Mandera have been given police escorts, but Kenya police spokesman Charles Owino said that had not happened in the latest case because the bus had bypassed a police road block.

He said that in addition to the two deaths, four people were wounded.

Al-Shabaab has said it will continue its attacks on Kenya until Nairobi withdraws troops from an African Union force fighting the militants in Somalia. It has also said north-eastern Kenya should be part of Somalia.

Kenya's long north-eastern border with Somalia is widely considered a security weak spot. Factors include poor coordination between security services, and a culture of corruption that allows anyone prepared to pay a bribe to pass unchallenged.