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Kenyan Bus Attack Survivor: Let Us ‘Live Peacefully Together’

  • Jill Craig

Salah Sabdow Farah was shot when the bus he was traveling in was attacked by al-Shabab militants in December 2015. He is recovering at Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital in January 2016.(J. Craig/VOA)

Salah Sabdow Farah was shot when the bus he was traveling in was attacked by al-Shabab militants in December 2015. He is recovering at Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital in January 2016.(J. Craig/VOA)

Salah Sabdow Farah is in relatively good spirits but admits he's in a great deal of pain.

His right arm is sprayed with angry shrapnel marks, his hip still hurts from where a bullet passed through, and he's just beginning to heal from internal injuries.

Farah sustained his wounds on December 21, when al-Shabab militants attacked the bus he was riding in near the northeastern Kenyan town of Mandera.

The attack gained worldwide attention not because Farah and other passengers were shot, but because they defied the gunmen, and refused to divide themselves between Muslims and Christians.

Farah, a Muslim, paid the price for that bravery and has spent more than two weeks in Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital as doctors tend to his wounds. He's currently sharing a "private" room with five other patients and was on strict bed rest until January 7th.

But despite the pain, Farah is confident he did the right thing. Islam is a religion of peace, he says, and Muslims and Christians are neighbors.

"People should live peacefully together,” he said. “We are brothers. It's only the religion that is the difference, so I ask my brother Muslims to take care of the Christians so that the Christians also take care of us. … and let us help one another and let us live together peacefully."

Al-Shabab, needless to say, does not share those attitudes.

Refusal to separate

Farah, 34, is a teacher and the deputy headmaster at a primary school in Mandera county, the northeastern corner of Kenya that borders both Ethiopia and Somalia.

Last month he went to Masaai Mara in southwestern Kenya — a trip of more than 800 kilometers — for a training program. He started his return journey on December 20, traveling by bus. The next day, he was almost home when the bus was ambushed in the town of Kotulo.

Buses in the area usually travel with a police car for protection.

FILE - Kenyan security forces and others gather around the scene on an attack on a bus about 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside the town of Mandera, near the Somali border in northeastern Kenya, Nov. 22, 2014.

FILE - Kenyan security forces and others gather around the scene on an attack on a bus about 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside the town of Mandera, near the Somali border in northeastern Kenya, Nov. 22, 2014.

"Unfortunately, there was no escort,” Farah said, “and then, unfortunately, we were surrounded by the al-Shabab."

Farah says al-Shabab's initial shots went through a windshield on the bus and shrapnel injured his arm.

After bringing the bus to a halt, the gunmen demanded the estimated 80 passengers disembark. They did, but not before some Muslim women on the bus gave headscarves to Christian women.

They no doubt remembered an incident in Mandera in 2014, in which al-Shabab stopped a bus, divided passengers by religion, and then shot dead the 28 non-Muslims.

After disembarking, "we were told to get down — we refused," Farah said. "When we refused, they started shooting, so starting [at] that time when they started shooting, we went down, everybody went down in panic."

Next, he says, the militants took the passengers to a field.

"We were told to separate — the Christians, this side, the Muslims, this side," Farah said.

But Farah and the other passengers refused.

"And then, at that moment, when we were told to separate, we refused, that is the time that the bullet got me, from somewhere far," Farah said. "It hit me in the hip."

‘Religion of peace’

According to press reports, the Muslim passengers confronted the gunmen, telling them to kill all the passengers or leave them alone. Surprisingly, the militants chose the latter option.

When the ordeal was over, Farah was taken to Mandera hospital, before being flown to Nairobi for more intensive medical care.

Another gunshot victim is also recuperating at Kenyatta National Hospital. Two others were killed.

This Wednesday, Kenyan police released the names of four suspects in the attack — Mohamed Osman Aliow, Abdullahi Dimbil Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed Farah and Abukar Mohamed Yunis. Police are appealing to the public for help and offering rewards for information leading to arrests.

Farah, incidentally, does not consider people like his attackers to be Muslims at all.

"Because Islam, Islam is a religion of peace, it's not a religion of terrorists," he said. "No, it is people who have different ideology, because people who have that ideology, they want to kill."

"But me, according to my belief, Muslims and Christians are neighbors and they can live together and that's why we are living together in Kenya."

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