Nairobi: In wake of the “heinous” attack staged by the al Shabaab fighters on a bus in Kenya, a senior official has said that the extremists aim to cause a religious war in the country by creating divide between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Speaking to the BBC, Abdikadir Mohammed - a senior adviser to President Uhuru Kenyatta – condemned the deadly bus attack as a “heinous crime” and called on people of all “faiths and creeds" to stand together against them.
"The aim is to create conflict between the Muslims and the non-Muslims in this country," the BBC quoted Mr Mohammed as saying. "The aim is to create a religious war, religious strife, in Kenya”.
“We have had a lot of the Muslim leaders come out today and strongly condemn this and call on Kenyans of all faiths and creeds to stand together against these heinous crimes and criminals," he added.
Al-Shabab, Somalia's Islamic extremist rebels, on Saturday morning attacked a bus in northern Kenya and killed 28 passengers after singling them out for not being able to recite Koran.
One of he survivors named Ochwodho said that those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Kenyan police said that the slain 28 passengers were targeted as they could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims.
Nineteen men and nine women were killed in the bus attack, said Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings through its radio station in Somalia, saying it was in retaliation for raids by Kenyan security forces carried out earlier this week on four mosques at the Kenyan coast.
Kenya's military said it responded to the killings with airstrikes later Saturday that destroyed the attackers' camp in Somalia and killed 45 rebels.
"The United States condemns in the strongest terms today's horrific attack in Kenya by the terrorist group al-Shabab against innocent civilians," said Bernadette Meehan, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council in Washington.
"The United States stands with our Kenyan partners in the effort to counter the threat of terrorism and affirms our ongoing commitment to working with all Kenyans to combat these atrocities," her statement said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attack.
The bus traveling to the capital Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the town of Mandera near Kenya's border with Somalia, said two police officers who insisted on anonymity because they were ordered not to speak to the press.
The attackers first tried to wave the bus down but it didn't stop so the gunmen sprayed it with bullets, said the police. When that didn't work they shot a rocket propelled grenade at it, the officers said.
The gunmen took control of the vehicle and forced it off the road where they ordered all the passengers out of the vehicle and separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims— mostly non-Somalis— from the rest.
The survivor, Douglas Ochwodho, a non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera, said was travelling home for the Christmas vacation since school had closed.
Kenya has been hit by a series of gun and bomb attacks blamed on al-Shabab, who are linked to al-Qaida, 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 upscale 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.
With Agency Inputs