Gunmen massacre 147 Kenyan college students

ISLAMIST al-Shabab extremists attacked a college in north-east Kenya yesterday, targeting Christians and killing at least 147 people and wounding 60 others.
Kenyan police officers take positions outside the Garissa University College. Picture: APKenyan police officers take positions outside the Garissa University College. Picture: AP
Kenyan police officers take positions outside the Garissa University College. Picture: AP

Krnya’s national disaster operations centre and the interior ministry said the attack by al-Shabab gunmen on Garissa University College campus had claimed 147 lives, and that four attackers had also died.

The interior minister, Joseph Nkaissery, said most of those killed were students but the figure included two police officers, one soldier and two watchmen.

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The disaster centre said plans were under way last night to evacuate students and other affected persons.

It was by far the highest death toll in an attack by al-Shabab, an Islamic extremist group from neighbouring Somalia, on Kenyan soil.

Even as security forces cornered and reportedly killed the four gunmen in a dormi­tory at Garissa University College, survivors described a harrowing scene.

Collins Wetangula, the vice-chairman of the student union, said he had been preparing to take a shower when he heard gunshots coming from Tana dorm, which hosts both men and women, 150 metres away.

The campus has six dorms and at least 887 students, he said. He said that when he heard the gunshots he locked himself and three room-mates in their room.

“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots. Nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” he said.

“The gunmen were saying sisi ni al-Shabaab [Swahili for we are al-Shabaab],” he said.

When the gunmen arrived at his dormitory, he could hear them opening doors and asking if the people who had hidden inside were Muslims or Christians.

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“If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot,” he said. “With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die.”

The gunmen started to shoot rapidly and it was as if there was an exchange of fire, he said.

“The next thing, we saw people in uniform through the window of the back of our rooms who identified themselves as the Kenyan military,” Mr Wetangula said. The soldiers took him and around 20 others to safety.

A spokesman for al-Shabaab said it had been responsible for the attack. Ali Mohamud Rage said in a radio broadcast that its fighters were conducting a “heavy” military operation inside the campus.

Michael Bwana, a 20-year-old student who fled the attack, said he and other survivors had been trying to call their trapped friends but their phones were switched off. Either the students had turned off their phones for their own safety or the gunmen had seized the handsets, he said.

“Most of the people still inside there are girls,” Mr Bwana said, referring to student dormitory in which gunmen were believed to have been holding an unknown number of students.

One suspected extremist was arrested as he attempted to flee the scene.

Augustine Alanga, a 21-year-old student, described a panicked scene as gunshots rang out outside their dormitory in the pre-dawn hours when most people were asleep.

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There were at least five heavily armed, masked gunmen, said Mr Alanga, who was one of scores of students who managed to escape through barbed wire fencing.

Some of the more seriously wounded were being flown to Nairobi, the capital, authorities said.

Kenya’s northern and eastern regions, near the Somali border, have suffered many attacks blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked Somali group, which has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight the militants in 2011 following cross-border attacks.

Police said 312 people had been killed in al-Shabab attacks in Kenya since 2012.