Kenya Islamist massacre bodies go to Nairobi

The bodies of many of those killed by Islamist militants at a Kenyan university were moved to the capital Nairobi yesterday for identification.

Relatives of the victims of the Garissa University College were comforted by Kenyan Red Cross workers. Picture: Getty

At least 147 people died when al-Shabab militants stormed Garissa University in north-eastern Kenya, near Somalia.

The Islamic extremists appeared to have planned extensively, even targeting a site where Christians had gone to pray, survivors said yesterday.

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Police were at the campus of Garissa University College, taking fingerprints from the bodies of the four assailants and of the students and security officials who died, for thorough identification purposes. The northeastern Kenyan town lacks the facilities to store all the bodies.

In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, family members were lining up at a morgue where about 20 bodies had already been airlifted from Garissa, victims of the worst attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy by al-Qaida which killed more than 200 people. Screaming and crying relatives of victims were assisted by Kenyan Red Cross staff, who tried to console them.

One of the first things that the al-Shabab gunmen did when they assaulted the campus early on Thursday, survivor Helen Titus said, was to head for a lecture hall where Christians were in early morning prayer. Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based extremist group with ties to al-Qaida.

“They investigated our area. They knew everything,” Titus said, speaking at a hospital in Garissa where she was being treated for a bullet wound to the wrist. Officials said 79 people were wounded.

Titus, a 21-year-old English literature student, said she covered her face and hair with the blood of classmates and lay still at one point during al-Shabab’s deadliest attack on Kenyan soil in hopes the Islamic extremist gunmen would think she was dead.

The gunmen also told students hiding in dormitories to come out, assuring them that they would not be killed, said Titus, who wore a patient’s gown as she sat on a bench in the hospital yard.

“We just wondered whether to come out or not,” she said. Many students did, whereupon the gunmen started shooting men, saying they would not kill “ladies,” Titus said. But they also shot women and targeted Christians, she added.

Esther Wanjiru said she was awake at the time of the attack. Asked if she lost anyone, she said: “My best friend.”

Another survivor, Nina Kozel, said she was woken up by screaming and that many students escaped by sprinting to the fences and jumping over them. Some suffered bruises, she said. Many men were unable to escape, and hid in vain under beds and in closets in their rooms, according to Kozel.

“They were shot there and then,” she said.

Those who surrendered were either selected for killing, or freed in some cases, apparently because they were Muslim, she said.

The killers shouted “God is great” in Arabic as they proceeded with the slaughter, she said.

Security forces stood guard Friday at the gate of the school. School slogans on the wall outside said “Oasis of Innovation” and “A World Class University of Technological Processes and Development”.

At one point, a group approached the college gate and was blocked by soldiers.

Some of the surviving students awaited evacuation to Nairobi by plane from a nearby airstrip.