Nearly 150 people, mostly innocent students of a Kenyan University, were massacred in an attack by a Somalia based Islamist group owing allegiance to Al-Qaeda. Many students were presumed to be shot dead while they were still in their sleep.
Four gunmen belonging Al-Shabab, an extremist group based in Somalia and affiliated with al-Qaeda broke into Garissa University College campus early on Thursday morning firing indiscriminately as they stormed the main building. According to the survivors, it was a chilling execution with sectarian overtones as the gunmen separated Christians from Muslims before the former were killed.
President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a statement extending condolences to the families of victims and saying that he and his government “continue to pray for the quick recovery of the injured.
The Kenyan authorities have so far confirmed that at least 147 were killed, while 79 are seriously wounded. “There are 147 fatalities confirmed in the Garissa attack,” the national disaster operations centre said in a statement, confirming the siege was now over with all attackers dead.
This is described as the deadliest attack on Kenya since US embassy bombings of 1998 where 224 people had lost their lives.
According to the eyewitnesses and survivors, the masked gunmen carrying grenades and automatic rifles stormed into campus and began firing that killed dozens before everyone was taken hostage. Some students and staffers who were offering morning prayers, as the gunmen entered, were not harmed. They then separated the Muslims from the hostages and held Christian students and staffers. The Muslims were allowed to go as the masked gunmen seized upon the Christians taking them hostage and attacked them.
Eric Wekesa, a student at Garissa, told Reuters as he locked himself in his room before eventually fleeing: “What I managed to hear from them is ‘We came to kill or finally be killed.’ That’s what they said.”
“It was horrible, there was shooting everywhere,” said another student who managed to survive the deadly attack.
The Kenyan authorities responded by sending the security forces to combat the hostage crisis. The troops were only able to enter the campus late on Thursday night ending a long 16 hours gun battle.
“The operation at Garissa University College has ended, with all four terrorists killed,” the government representative said.
In between, the extremist outfit Al-Shabab issued a statement through a radio station it controls claiming responsibility for the attack. It is a second big attack by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab outfit in Kenya. Earlier they had claimed responsibility of carrying out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013, when four gunmen killed at least 67 people in a four-day siege.
Kenya has long been a front-line Africa state in the battle with Islamist extremism, many of whom are based in Somalia. This attack by Al-Shabab is seen as targeting Kenya for sending its troops into Somali territory, where they have joined the African Union force battling the militants.