How heroic driver saved 30 from jaws of al Shabaab

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 00:00 | By
The driver of the Mombasa Raha bus, Raymond Juma, points at a bullet hole following the attack in Lamu by al Shabaab on Thursday. PD/ BOnface Msangi

 By Murimi Mutiga and Sophie Njoka

Yesterday was just another day at work for Raymond Juma, the driver of one of the two buses christened Mombasa Raha, that ply the Mombasa-Lamu route.

It did not cross his mind anything sinister lay ahead that would shatter the tranquility of the mid-morning as he drove through the thick forest. 

But suddenly, like a bolt from nowhere, the bus came under a hail of bullets at  Nyongoro area in Lamu—and though unable to comprehend what was going on, his instinct was to do what it takes to save the more than 30 passengers in the bus. 

He only had one option: Keep driving even after tyres were deflated by bullets, to save as many lives as possible. 

Under the hail of bullets, Juma managed to save the lives of about 30 passengers from the estimated 20 al Shabaab militants who had waylaid the bus with the mission of killing as many innocent passengers as they could. 

“It was like a scene from horror movie. They emerged from the forest and started firing indiscriminately, ordering us to stop. I engaged a higher gear and drove fast as they fired at us. Unfortunately, they deflated the tyres but I still managed to drive for about 100 metres,” he said.

Three dead

And by the time the gunfire went silent, passengers were screaming and traumatised. While most of them were grateful to have escaped the terror scene, three of them unfortunately died.

Ironically, officers who had been mandated to ensure safety of the passengers are said to have fled amid the gunfire. 

Juma said they left Mombasa for Lamu at 6.30am under police escort because of the insecurity in the terror-prone forest through which the road cuts.

He said when they were attacked, the officers made a U-turn, leaving them at the mercy of the militants. His bus was among a convoy of three buses that came under attack. 

Juma says the militants’ attention on Mombasa Raha was disrupted when they spotted another bus christened Simba Coach approaching.

“They ran towards the bus as the driver was attempting to engage a reverse gear. I could see all what was happening as I tried to save my life and those of my passengers. Few minutes later, we heard gunshots from the scene,” he said.

Police said three people were shot dead and two injured.

Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia said a multi-agency security team is pursuing the militiamen who fled into Boni Forest after the attack.

“The deaths could rise considering the nature of injuries,” he added.

Lamu County Police commander Perminius Kioi confirmed the buses were under police escort but could not explain why the officers abandoned the passengers at the hour of need.

“I can confirm three people have died after suspected militants fired at the bus they were in. Three other people are seriously injured. We will provide more information once investigations are over. Those injured were rushed to Garsen and Witu dispensaries while the buses were taken to Witu police station,” said Kioi.

Thomas Kitsao, a survivor of the attack, described the ordeal in the hands of the gunmen as horror.

Heavy gunfire

Katsao said his life was spared by the mercy of God, adding that he escaped unhurt even after coming under heavy gunfire from the militants. 

He said he boarded Simba Coach bus at Minjira in Garsen area of Tana River county and on reaching Nyongoro area, they spotted a stationary bus belonging to TSS bus with the passengers lying in the middle of the road.

“Our driver slowed down and as we approached the bus, the gunmen emerged from the forest. They fired in the air and ordered us to alight. They wore torn and dirty military regalia and their commander was speaking in fluent Kiswahili,” said Kitsao.

He added: “The escort police vehicle which was behind us reversed and drove off as it came under heavy gunfire from the militants,” he added.

Kitsao says the terrorists ordered them to lie facedown and demanded they each reveal their religion. 

“They asked whether I was Muslim or Christian and I said I was the latter,” he said.

Kitsao was told to join his “fellow infidels” laying down next to the TSS bus.

“I stepped back and it was at that point that I bolted for my dear life. I came under a hail of bullets, but I continued running deep into the forest. The huge trees helped me to dodge the bullets. I continued running for close to two hours until I was close to Mpeketoni,” added Kitsao.

Faith question

The father of four said the militants demanded identity cards and those who claimed to be Muslims but had no identity cards would be forced to recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Nyongoro is among areas listed as terror-prone by security officers  as there have been several attacks on security and public service vehicles. 

Latest reports indicate that the Al Shabaab terrorists have shifted the focus to security forces and infrastructure particularly through Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and ambushes like those targeting passenger buses.

Though in 2018 there were fewer indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the number of attacks have, however, increased in recent months.

Among the latest attacks are the December 18 incident where militants kidnapped locals who were undertaking the Khorof Harar-konton road construction. They hijacked a Toyota Hilux pick up and a road grading tractor. 

Another attack was on December 6, when terrorists attacked a bus carrying 56 passengers between Kotulo and Wargadud in Tarbaj Sub-county, Wajir County where ten passengers were killed.

The terror threat level, according to the latest intelligence brief, is currently very high but a number of strategies have been put in place in the country to deal with the threats. 

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