The masked attackers — strapped with explosives and armed with AK-47s — singled out non-Muslim students at Garissa University College and then gunned them down without mercy, survivors said. Others ran for their lives with bullets whistling through the air.
The men took dozens of hostages in a dormitory for several hours as they battled troops and police before the operation was ended after about 13 hours
When gunfire from the Kenyan security forces struck the attackers, the militants exploded “like bombs,” Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said, adding that the shrapnel wounded some of the officers.
Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said fighters from the Somalia-based extremist group were responsible. The al-Qaida-linked group has been blamed for a series of attacks in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, as well as other violence in the north.
Most of the 147 dead were students, but two security guards, one policeman and one soldier also were killed in the attack, Nkaissery said.
At least 79 people were wounded at the campus 145 kilometres (90 miles) from the Somali border, he said. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was ordered in Garissa and three nearby counties.
One suspected extremist was arrested as he tried to flee, Nkaissery told a news conference in Nairobi.
Police identified a possible mastermind of the attack as Mohammed Mohamud, who is alleged to lead al-Shabab’s cross-border raids into Kenya, and they posted a $220,000 bounty for him. Also known by the names Dulyadin and Gamadhere, he was a teacher at an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, and claimed responsibility for a bus attack in Makka, Kenya, in November that killed 28 people.
One of the survivors of yesterday’s attack, Collins Wetangula, said he was preparing to take a shower when he heard gunshots coming from Tana dorm, which hosts both men and women, 150 metres away. The campus has six dorms and at least 887 students, he said.
When he heard the gunshots, he locked himself and three roommates in their room, said Wetangula, who is vice-chairman of the university’s student union.
He added: “The gunmen were saying, ‘Sisi ni al-Shabab,’” — Swahili for “We are al-Shabab.”