GARISSA: At least 70 students were massacred when Somalia’s Shebab group attacked a Kenyan university on Thursday, the interior minister said, the deadliest attack in the country since US embassy bombings in 1998.
Masked gunmen stormed the university in the northeastern town of Garissa as students were sleeping, hurling grenades and shooting dead others, before setting Muslims free and holding Christians and others hostage.
At least 79 people were wounded in the assault, which lasted for some 13 hours from when the first grenades were used before dawn to blast open the gates of the university, near the lawless border with war-torn Somalia.
In the final hour before darkness fell, Kenyan troops stormed the student dormitory where the gunmen were holed up as explosions and heavy gunfire rang out.
“We are mopping up the area,” Interior Minster Joseph Nkaiserry told reporters, saying that four gunmen had been killed after Kenyan troops launched an assault on the final building.
“Unfortunately, we lost… a number of lives… it is in the region of 70 students, and 79 have been injured, nine of them critically. “It is the deadliest attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by Al-Qaeda, when 213 people were killed.
“The terrorists, 90 percent of the threat has been eliminated… we have been able to confirm that four terrorists have been killed,” Nkaiserry added, saying that troops were scouring the campus as the total number of gunmen was not known, but that the main operation was over.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab claimed the pre-dawn attack, the same insurgents who carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013, when four gunmen slaughtered at least 67 people in a four-day bloodbath.
Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told AFP the gunmen had taken non-Muslims hostage, and that their mission had been “to kill those who are against the Shebab. “It was not clear if any of the students the Shebab said they had held were alive at the time of the final assault by troops. However, officials said over 500 students had been accounted for.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia,” Rage said, referring to the thousands of Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of an African Union military mission.
Soldiers with tanks were deployed around the campus.