Kenya attack: 147 dead as Islamist gunmen target Christian students

Masked gunmen from Somalia's Shabaab group massacre 147 Kenyan pupils in a day-long college campus siege

The Telegraph, UK/April 2, 2015

By Mike Pflanz and Aislinn Laing

At least 147 people have been killed after Islamist terrorists attacked a Kenyan university, singling out Christian students to murder.

A five-man cell of the Somali-based al-Shabaab group stormed into halls of residence at Garissa University College, 200 miles east of the capital Nairobi, Thursday morning, shooting at students before taking others hostage.

Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre declared the siege over by nightfall, with four terrorists killed and one arrested.

More than 300 of the university’s 815 students were unaccounted for last night. Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Centre said 70 people had been killed including two attackers, and at least 79 people were injured. Nine were emergency airlifted to the capital, Nairobi, for treatment.

Many of those who had been killed had their throats cut, according to one source who had spoken to morgue workers. The report could not be immediately verified.

Security analysts feared that the gang intended to keep their remaining hostages overnight ahead of further violence on Friday, to maximise attention for their attack during the Easter holidays.

Garissa, 200 miles east of Nairobi, is a mostly Muslim town but the university enrols many Christian students, and it would stand as a target for jihadist groups like Somalia's al-Shabaab that oppose Western education and development.

It was the deadliest in Kenya since the Westgate Shopping Centre attack in Nairobi in 2013. Then, 72 people including four al-Shabaab terrorists were killed during a four-day siege that wrecked Kenya’s reputation for stability in a violent region.

The raid began before dawn, when the terror cell shot dead two unarmed guards manning the rudimentary gates at the entrance to the university’s 10-acre compound.

Students of the Garissa University College take shelter in a vehicle after fleeing from an attack by gunmen (AP)

They stormed student dormitories and began firing indiscriminately before reportedly slowing their attack to ask Christians and Muslims to separate, a hallmark of recent al-Shabaab attacks in majority-Christian Kenya.

Later, there were reports that they positioned themselves on the roof of the building to shoot at people below.

Collins Wetangula, vice-chairman of the university’s student union, thinks he was saved by the sudden appearance of Kenyan troops as the gunmen were working their way through his dormitory.

Soldiers at Garissa University College (Abdimalik Hajir/Barcroft)

The attackers opened the doors and asked if the people who had hidden inside were Muslims or Christians. "If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die,” said Mr Wetangula.

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

Michael Bwana, 20, said he and other survivors tried to call the friends they believed were being held hostage, but their phones were switched off. This could have been done either by their owners to keep them from ringing and identifying their hiding places, or by the cell if they were being held captive.

"Most of the people still inside there are girls," Mr Bwana said, referring to those still being held.

By Thursday evening, more than 500 students had been found safe. Emergency medical teams flew from the capital to help the overloaded district hospital. Queues of people formed to donate blood.

There were immediate criticisms that the Kenyan authorities had again failed to stop a major terror attack, especially considering that there appeared to be intelligence suggesting such a raid was imminent.

Britain, the US and Australia last week extended their travel advisories for parts of Kenya’s coast or else alerted their citizens to a raised threat level in the country ahead of the Easter holidays.

Garissa had long fallen inside the zone considered most at risk by British security agencies. It lies in Kenya’s arid north-east, roughly midway between Nairobi and the Somali border, far from the country’s beaches or safari parks popular with Western tourists.

The authorities in Kenya, which has suffered at least three major terror attacks by Somali-based terror groups since 1998, had even said last week that al-Shabaab could have been planning a strike on a university.

However, there have long been accusations that the government in Nairobi ignores provincial security, especially in country’s north east where it borders Somalia.

There, extreme poverty, repeated drought and a lack of state investment combine to drive increasing numbers of young Kenyans into the arms of jihadi groups like al-Shabaab.

Meanwhile, police posts are under-manned and poorly equipped, and the army is thinly stretched. Indiscriminate police raids against Muslim communities on the pretext of searching for terror cells has eroded relations between citizens and the authorities.

It was unclear if the team that attacked Garissa University College was Kenyan or Somali. Witnesses reported the attackers spoke Swahili, Kenya’s national language. A purported Somali terror attack on the Kenyan town of Mpeketoni last year was later attributed to a Kenyan cell linked to local politicians.

The authorities in Nairobi more than doubled the bounty on the head of Dulyadin Gamadhere, a Kenyan and former teacher who was alleged to have masterminded the attack.

Al-Shabaab has been repeatedly beaten back inside Somalia, and senior commanders have been killed by US drone strikes or in internal squabbles within the organisation.

To remain relevant as Islamic State takes the limelight from other extremist groups worldwide, it needed to carry out a fresh attack, one security source in Nairobi said.

“This was probably it,” he said, referring to the Garissa attack. “I’m not sure that as Shabaab stands, it has the wherewithal to carry out another Westgate, so something like what we’re seeing today is a stopgap.

“I think they are probably however still playing a long game, and are probably scouting for something more spectacular in the future.”

Christian Turner, the British High Commissioner in Nairobi, immediately condemned what he called a “cowardly” attack. “Kenyan resolve and unity is stronger than terrorists’ hatred,” he said.

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, promised personally to ensure that 10,000 police recruits whose deployment had been blocked by court action over allegedly corrupt hiring would undergo fast-track training.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos