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147 students killed, 79 hurt in Garissa campus attack

One hundred and forty seven students were killed and 79 injured after Al-Shabaab terrorists shot their way into Garissa University College at dawn on Thursday and opened fire on them.

By nine Thursday evening, the operation was declared officially over by Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery.

The attackers detonated suicide vests injuring some of the security forces.

Of the 815 students in the college, 500 were rescued, according to the government and the rest — 166 — were not properly accounted for earlier.

Some were presumed to have been taken hostage in a hostel on the campus.

FOUR TERRORISTS KILLED

The hostel housed 360 students, both male and female, according to the government, which also said it had killed four terrorists.

Sources said the number of people killed was higher than the official tally, perhaps as high as double.

There was still shooting Thursday night, even though the government had said the siege was over. No rescue workers were allowed into the campus by the military.

The government had said it was merely “mopping up” just in case any of the attackers were still on the campus.

One suspect, described as a terrorist by the government, was reportedly arrested while leaving the college.

In response to the attack, the government slapped a dawn to dusk curfew on four counties bordering Somalia — Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and Tana River — and ordered residents to remain indoors between 6.30pm and 6.30am.

SIMILAR TO WESTGATE

In an attack similar to, but worse than the 2013 one at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, five attackers gained entry into the university, a constituent college of Eldoret’s Moi University, after killing guards at the main gate.

They found some of the students inside lecture halls working on assignments while others were in the halls of residence.

Security services appeared to have some information that an attack on an institution of higher learning was in the offing and appear to have warned institutions to be careful.

Just like in the Westgate atrocity, the terrorists were armed with guns and grenades and gained entry by killing the officers at the gate and confronting others inside.

The college is located close to an army barracks.

And just like in Westgate, there was no quick resolution to the siege, with the Al-Shabaab believed to have taken some students hostage. Explosions and gunshots could be heard from inside the college late in the afternoon, eight hours after the attack began.

Ordinarily, Al-Shabaab do not take hostages. After storming their target, they kill as many of their defenceless victims as they can, then barricade themselves in a part of the building to draw the responding force into a fight and inflict more casualties and draw out the conflict so as to milk it for publicity.

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

On Thursday, it was reported that they had stationed snipers on rooftops to slow down the security forces deployed against them.

President Kenyatta spoke to the Nation in a televised broadcast and said the attackers had taken hostages, adding that full details would be provided by the Interior ministry.

Earlier, Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet said the terrorists had taken positions in the students’ hostels.

A spokesman for Al-Shabaab told AFP news agency that the group was behind the assault on the university and had taken non-Muslims hostage.

“When our men arrived, they released the Muslims. We are holding others hostage,” Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told AFP, without giving numbers.

Witnesses said the terrorists announced their raid with loud explosions, possibly by throwing grenades, followed by continuous gunfire.

 

POLICE PATROLS

In Nairobi and Mombasa, there was increased police patrols on the streets and estates.

In Eastleigh and South “C” estates in Nairobi, as well as the city centre, there was an unusually high presence of officers.

The attack came just days after the United Kingdom issued travel advisories, warning its citizens against travelling to Kenya because of security threats.

During the week, social media was awash with unverified information that Al-Shabaab was planning major attacks during the Easter holiday.

The University of Nairobi and the United States International University-Africa had issued alerts to students, asking them to be vigilant and cautious.

Garissa University College Dean of Students Jacktone Kweya Opande said students called him and told him that they had been attacked.

“We managed to call the county security officials who mobilised other security personnel but before they arrived, students kept calling us to tell us that their comrades had been shot and that some of them had even died,” said Mr Opande.