Are these the dangerous Muslims some people want to keep out?

The “Daily Nation” reported yesterday that on Monday, December 21, 2015 a bus and lorry was attacked by Al-Shabaab militants in Mandera, northeastern Kenya.

Two people died in the incident and three were injured.

But this is not just a story of extremism, violence and death. It is also a story of heroism and compassion from what for some people might be a surprising source. The “Daily Nation” reports that

Governor Ali Roba said locals protected non Muslim passengers thereby preventing a massacre similar to last year’s when Al-Shabaab members hijacked and killed 28 people, mainly teachers, in a Nairobi-bound bus.

The bus Al-Shabaab militants attacked in Mandera on December 21, 2015 killing one person and injuring three others. PHOTO | MANASE OTSIALO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The bus Al-Shabaab militants attacked in Mandera on December 21, 2015 killing one person and injuring three others. PHOTO | MANASE OTSIALO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“They refused to separate from non Muslims and told the attackers to kill all passengers or leave. That is why some locals were injured trying to protect non Muslim passengers,” Mr Roba told the Nation on phone from abroad.

One of the survivors, Mr Abdirashid Adan who is admitted to Mandera County Referral Hospital said the attackers scattered when they heard the sound of an oncoming lorry.

“We were forced to stop after they shot at our bus. One of the bullets injured me in the buttocks. We alighted but one person attempted to run away and was shot dead,” Mr Adan said.

He went on: “As the attackers started separating passengers according to their religions, we heard the sound of an oncoming lorry. They all ran back into the bush thinking it was police. After realizing it was not police, they stopped the lorry as we dashed back into the bus and sped off.”

“They were trying to identify who were Christians and who were not. They told the non-Christians to return to vehicle,” Mr Otieno said.

According to the Washington Post, this is not the first time, Muslims have protected non-Muslims against harm from extremist groups. The Washington Post reports that,

In November 2014, al-Shabab gunmen attacked a bus full of teachers in the same region, pulling 28 non-Muslim passengers from the vehicle and shooting them point blank, according to the Guardian. The following month, the BBC reported, the militant group did the same to non-Muslim workers at a quarry near the Somali border. The group has also indiscriminately killed both Muslims and non-Muslims during deadly attacks in Kenya, as it did in the April siege of Garissa University, in the country’s east, that left 147 people dead.

But not this time. Militants told passengers to get off the bus, “demanding that Muslims separate from Christians, but they refused,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

“These Muslims sent a very important message of the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans and that we are not separated by religion,” Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery told local media at a briefing. “Everybody can profess their own religion, but we are still one country and one people.”

Mandera County, where the attack took place, is in Kenya’s northeast along the border with Somalia. When the militants attempted to sort through the passengers, they told “locals” — most of whom are Muslim and ethnic Somalis — that they could get back on and be spared, according to the BBC.

They refused.

“We even gave some non-Muslims our religious attire to wear in the bus so that they would not be identified easily. We stuck together tightly,” Abdi Mohamud Abdi, a Muslim passenger, told Reuters. “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.”

Deputy County Commissioner Julius Otieno confirmed that account to Reuters, adding that Muslim passengers refused to help the militants, who “were trying to identify who were Muslims and who were not.”

“The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other,” Roba, the county governor, told the Star, a Kenyan daily. He said the passengers insisted that al-Shabab either “kill them together or leave them alone.”

Another passenger, 28-year-old teacher Abdrirahman Hussein, told the AP that some Muslims gave head scarves to non-Muslims.

The arrogance that refuses to see the possibility of compassion, kindness, and self-sacrifice (ie. God) in another person simply because that other person may understand God in slightly different ways, has no place in a world community that hopes to establish peace and goodwill.