A primary school headteacher who was the only survivor of the Kenya bus massacre has said he was saved because his would-be killers became confused as he lay waiting to be murdered.
Non-Muslim Douglas Ochwodho, who was singled out to be killed, said one gunman shot from the right and one from the left, each killing their victims lying in a line on the ground.
They came closer and closer to Mr Ochwodho, who was in the middle, then the shooting stopped.
Apparently each gunman thought the other shot Mr Ochwodho, who perfectly still until the 20 Islamic extremists left the scene.
Twenty-eight passengers were murdered when Somalia’s al-Shabab group attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn yesterday and picked out those who could not recite an Islamic creed who they assumed to be non-Muslims. Nineteen men and nine women were killed.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, Mr Ochwodho, who spoke from a hospital bed where he was being treated for shock, said.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings through its radio station in Somalia, saying it was in retaliation for earlier raids by Kenyan security forces on four coastal mosques.
Kenya’s military said it responded to the killings with air strikes that destroyed the attackers’ camp in Somalia and killed 45 rebels.
The bus, travelling to the capital Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked about 31 miles from the town of Mandera near Kenya’s border with Somalia.
The attackers first tried to wave the bus down but it did not stop so they sprayed it with bullets, police said. When that did not work they fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle.
The gunmen then took control of the vehicle and forced it off the road, where they ordered all the passengers out and separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims- mostly non-Somalis – from the rest.
Mr Ochwodho, the head of a private primary school in Mandera, said was travelling home for the Christmas holidays since school had closed. Seventeen of the dead were teachers, according to the police commander in Mandera County.
He said the passengers, who did not look Somali, were separated from the others. The non-Somali passengers were then asked to recite the Islamic creed declaring oneness with God. Those who could not were ordered to lie down and the massacre began.
Mr Ochwodho said when the killers reached him they were confused on whether either had shot him. After the gunmen left, he ran back to the road and flagged down a pick-up truck which took him back to Mandera.
A shortage of staff and lack of equipment led to a slow response by police when the information was received, said two officers who insisted on anonymity because they were ordered not to speak to the press.
They said the attackers had more sophisticated weaponry than the police, who waited for military reinforcements before responding.
Kenya has been hit by a series of gun and bomb attacks blamed on al Qaida-linked al-Shabab, since it sent troops into Somalia in October 2011.
Authorities say there have been at least 135 attacks by al-Shabab since then, including the assault on Nairobi’s plush Westgate Mall in September 2013 in which 67 people were killed.
Al-Shabab said it was responsible for other attacks on Kenya’s coast earlier this year which killed at least 90 people.
Al-Shabab is becoming “more entrenched and a graver threat to Kenya”, warned the International Crisis Group in a September report to mark the anniversary of the Westgate attack.
The report said the Islamic extremists were taking advantage of long-standing grievances of Kenya’s Muslim community, such as official discrimination and marginalisation.
Kenya has been struggling to contain growing extremism in the country. Last week the authorities shut down four mosques at the Kenyan coast after police said they found explosives and a gun when they raided the places of worship.
One person was killed during the raid on two of the mosques. Police said they shot dead a young man trying to hurl a grenade at them. The government previously said the four mosques were recruitment centres for al-Shabab.
Some Muslims believe the police planted the weapons to justify closing the mosques, Kheled Khalifa, a human rights official said.
He warned that methods used to tackle extremism by the government would increase support for radicals.