Kenya bus attack survivor: 'I played dead'

image copyrightMichael Kaloki

Kenyan head teacher Douglas Ochwodho Ondari was on a bus that was attacked by Somali al-Shabab militants last month in north-eastern Kenya, near the border with Somalia. He survived the attack, but 28 passengers, including his wife, did not. He told the BBC his distressing story:

We set off at 2am from Mandera to Nairobi. I was in seat number 34. My wife was in seat number 31, ahead of me.

After about 15km [nine miles] we found six people standing by the side of the road - they started shooting and said: "We are soldiers, stop!"

However, when we approached them we saw that their faces were covered, you could only see their eyes. That is when the driver said: "These are al-Shabab, these are not soldiers."

The driver tried to drive on but the men fired at the vehicle. Up ahead there were others holding grenades and they said: "If you can't stop we will just destroy the bus."

Some people in the bus shouted to the driver to stop the bus because it would be better than being hit by a grenade. So he was forced to stop.

The driver stopped but refused to open the door. The armed men shot at the door and got in. They also shot at the front window and came in that way. Some went on top of the bus onto the roof rack. They spoke English, Swahili and Somali.

We were lying on top of each other on the floor of the bus. They told us to sit properly and they ordered the driver to drive on, on the same route that he had been using before, on our journey to Nairobi.

I noticed that the man in the seat next to me - a Somali looking man - was stooped low in his seat. He was bleeding heavily. He had been hit by one of the bullets fired by the armed men when they shot at the bus. I tried to speak to him. I lifted his hand and it dropped. I realised he was dead.

The armed men seemed sad to have shot the Somali-looking man next to me. They shouted at the driver to try and give him first aid. One of them took a first aid box and tried to treat him. But when they tried to treat him they realised he was already dead.

'Arms broken'

At some point, the bus went off the main road and after a while it got stuck in the mud. The driver and his conductor were asked to get out and try to clear the mud from the wheels. This did not work and the bus was still stuck.

The armed men had checked our IDs. Those of us who were not Somalis or from any of the tribes around that area were asked to step out of the bus. They asked the women to leave first. The women were standing on one side of the bus.

image copyrightAP
image captionThe bus had become stuck in the mud after it was hijacked by the militants

Then they asked us men to step out of the bus. As each man reached the door of the bus, they were asked to put their hand in between a metal pole - used to assist one in getting on the bus - and the door frame. The armed men then twisted one hand of each man and broke it. The sound was dreadful. It was like hearing dry firewood timber being broken.

I had been sweating a lot in the bus and my hand was also covered by some of the blood from the man sitting next to me who had died. My hand slipped and the armed man thought he had broken it. They only broke the Kenyan men's hands.

They [then] asked people to recite the Koran. If you were able to recite the Koran you stood aside. If you were not able to recite the Koran you lay down on the ground, face-down. There were 30 of us - women were lying on one side and the men were lying on the other side.

I knew the men lying next to me. One was a friend of mine, he was lying next to me. Two were soldiers from Mandera, another two were doctors.

'Don't need money'

The driver tried to plead with the armed men to let us go, telling them that we could give them money. They refused.

My wife had given me all the money she had in her purse, 42,000 shillings (£297, $465).

I tried to speak to one of the armed men who spoke Swahili and told him: "Brother, let me give you money and you let us go."

He asked me: "Who are you with?" I said: "My wife."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe bus was travelling from Mandera to the capital, Nairobi

He said: "We don't need your money." However, they later took money from every person who did not look Somali.

They did a search and took the IDs of those they had not taken. Then 12 men came on one side and the others on the other side. They told us: "Tell your Kenyan soldiers to come and save you now."

They then started shooting each person. Me, I was number five. I saw my wife being shot. I heard my wife say: "Oh, God." That is what I heard my wife saying.

I tried to get up to help her but the soldier who was lying next to me held me down and told me: "Just surrender, don't try and get up, don't even try and lift your hand up."

They started shooting, then they got to the friend of mine, who was lying next to me. I thought I felt mud fall on my head, when they shot him, then I realised it was his flesh that had fallen on my head. They were shooting about six bullets per person.

I was tainted with the blood of the passenger who had died sitting next to me - that is maybe what saved me. And then also there was the flesh that had fallen on my head.

When they finished, I heard them talking Somali and they were kicking us. I could feel them kicking me several times. Then after a while they started clapping their hands. After about 30 minutes I didn't hear anything.

I don't know how long it was before I heard what sounded like soldiers talking and saying: "Have they killed our people?" That is when I got up. They were the Home Guard, and they were there with soldiers from Mandera. They took me to hospital.

Since I got to hospital I've been in a bad mental state. I pray to God to forgive the men who did this. Everyone must pray for the innocent.

Translation by Michael Kaloki, BBC Nairobi

Douglas Ondari spoke to Outlook on the BBC World Service. Listen to the interview again on iPlayer or get the Outlook podcast.

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