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Why varsity was easy terrorist target

Even though Garissa University College is the only public university in northern Kenya, it has never been at risk of a terrorist raid despite the town having been attacked 11 times before.

But that is until Al-Shabaab discovered it was one of the few public places where Kenyans of different ethnic groups gather daily.

A week ago, security agencies told of a plot by Al-Shabaab targeting a public institution in the country.

Students at the institution were last week told of an imminent attack on a vital installation in the country.

However, a notice on the boards was general, asking students to be vigilant, report suspicious people or activities and stay calm.

ASSURED STUDENTS

The notice also assured the students that security agencies were trying to foil the attack.

But going by the trend of previous attacks, the college was the most likely target if Al-Shabaab chose Garissa town.

The terrorists had previously attacked Kwa Chege restaurant, four times, where people from other parts of the country frequented.

The group said at the time that it was avenging the killings of Muslims in Kenya and in Somalia where Kenyan troops are trying to flush out the militants.

There had been several other attacks targeting churches soldiers and police.

Sources have disclosed that security agencies had obtained information about a possible attack on the college, a popular church or a supermarket opened in the town just a few months ago.

Although security agencies have not said whether they knew the details of the planned attack, the college is said to have asked for more security.

Usually, there are two guards at the gate, several others inside and another group at the hostels.

GUARD HOSTELS

From last weekend, four Administration Police officers were sent to guard the hostels. They were the first to respond when the attackers struck, according to Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery.

The university used to be a teachers’ training college. In 2011, it became Garissa University College, a branch of Moi University of Eldoret.

It has 815 students, most of who are from other parts of the country and selected through the universities and colleges central placement authority. There are 60 members of staff.

The college is situated just about two kilometres out of the centre of Garissa town.

On Thursday, the government said it could account for all the staff and only 282 students.

Mr Nkaissery said 15 people had been killed and 53 injured. Many more could still be trapped inside, held hostage by the militants.

“The attackers have been cornered in one hostel…one suspected terrorist has been arrested while attempting to flee,” he said at Garissa police headquarters.