The murderous trait of the Mandera killers was still evident Sunday at the scene of the dawn killing in cold blood of 28 passengers on a Nairobi-bound bus on Saturday.
At the scene near Arabia, 15 kilometres from Mandera Town, pieces of human skull, some teeth, blood, spent cartridges, blood stained gloves and gunshot holes left on the ground were a clear indication of the cruel manner in which the victims — mostly young teachers and health workers — met their untimely death.
The gruesome killing field stood against the backdrop of Deputy President William Ruto’s assertion Sunday that security agencies had caught up with the killers and had gunned down more than 100 suspects believed to have been involved in the attack.
Mr Ruto said Kenyan security agencies had mounted a successful retaliation and pursued the terrorists across the border and into Somalia.
“Our security forces swiftly initiated response.
They identified, followed and struck the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,” he said. “Two successful operations were carried out against the perpetrators of these murderous executions across the border. Our retaliatory action left in its trail more than 100 fatalities. It also destroyed four technicals and the camp from which this crime was planned.”
At the Mandera Police Station, the ill-fated bus from which the passengers were ejected before being shot was parked in the yard, with their luggage still inside.
According to the Mandera County police commander Noah Mwivanda, the majority of the dead were teachers who were headed for their rural homes for the December holidays.
The driver of the bus, Mr Abdi Hassan, said that he left Mandera with 59 passengers around 4am and on reaching Omar Jillow area, about 15 kilometres to Arabia, he was stopped by men in military uniform, who were armed with rifles. He claimed he had been reluctant to stop and continued driving despite being flagged down.
“I did not panic because I initially thought they were military officers,” he said.
Then, he said, he noticed that they had headscarfs and were all armed.
“One of them shot at the bus three times and I stopped. They then directed me to drive towards Arabia,” he said in an interview with the Nation.
The bullets struck the left side of the bus.
“The passengers started screaming. Some hid under the seats while others flocked at the door,” he said.
Three of the gunmen got into the bus after it had stopped. The driver said one of them slapped him twice and ordered him to drive towards Arabiya.
After a short distance, he was ordered to turn left from the main road. About 300 metres from the turn-off, the bus got stuck because it had rained. The gunmen then ordered him together with the mechanic out of the bus. About 100 metres away from the scene was a quarry that marked the end of the road. “We were told to step aside and later heard gunshots,” he said.
Mr Hassan said that from where he was, he could not see the other passengers although he could hear some of them screaming.
“I decided to walk up to Arabiya then later went back to Mandera,” he said.
The bus was later taken to the Mandera Police Station.
Inside, the luggage was strewn all over, an indication that it was left behind by people who were in panic.
At the scene of the murder, about 300 metres off the main Mandera-Elwak route, police left dozens of spent cartridges. Mr Mwivanda, however, said they had collected about 150 rounds of ammunition at the scene.
“From the calibre of the spent cartridges found at the scene, it is clear that the attackers were armed with AK-47 rifles,” he said.
Police said investigations had been launched and the collected cartridges would be forwarded for ballistic examination.
When the Nation visited the scene, dozens of other cartridges were still uncollected.
Although initial reports had indicated that the attackers wanted to commandeer the bus to the Kenya-Somali border, an aerial survey of the area showed that the road led to a quarry beyond which there was no other road.
Some area residents said police arrived at the scene around 8am and found survivors still stranded at the scene.
Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) based at Omar Jillow told the Nation the area was prone to attacks since a Kenya Defence Forces camp was removed.
The KPR in charge, Mr Abdi Mohammed Isaack, said that there were only four officers in the area.