Up to 150 people have been murdered by al-Shabaab terrorists who stormed a Kenyan university and shot and beheaded Christians in the worst attack in the country in 17 years.
The group raided the Garissa University campus shortly after 5am local time, overwhelming guards and murdering people they suspected of being a Christian.
Tonight, the death toll had risen to 147 and the siege ended, according to the country’s disaster response agency. A total of 79 were injured and 587 were led to safety.
Kenyan security officials at the scene said dozens of hostages were freed and four of the gunmen were killed.
The attack is believed to be the worst terrorist attack on Kenyan soil since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 which killed more than 200 people.
The terrorists stuck mid-way through Holy Week, the most solemn period in the Christian calendar. Tonight, the Christian students were planning to celebrate the Last Supper in preparation for Good Friday.
Kenyan security officials said one of the terrorists was arrested after he tried to escape the compound.
They have also offered a $220,000 bounty for Mohammed Mohamud, known as Dulyadin, alias Gamadhere, who they suspect of masterminding the attack.
Kenyan intelligence officials believe that Mohamud is in charge of al-Shabaab’s external operations against the country.
He is believed to have spent time teaching in a hard-line madrassa before becoming a senior member of the Somali terror organisation.
He claimed responsiblity for an earlier attack in Makka, Kenya, on November 22, 2014, when 28 people were murdered.
Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinet announced that a curfew had been introduced from dusk to dawn–6.30pm to 6.30am–for four regions near the Somalia border as a security precaution.
Student Omar Ibrahim told News24 Kenya: ‘I was in a group that was saved by the KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) just after 1pm.
‘We saw many many bodies, some did not have heads. I don’t know why someone would do such a thing.’
Eye-witness Collins Wetangula, the vice chairman of the student union, said he was preparing to take a shower when he heard gunshots coming from Tana dorm, which hosts both men and women, 150 yards away.
The campus has six dormitories and at least 887 students, he said.
He said that when he heard the gunshots he locked himself and three roommates in their room. ‘All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots, nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are.
‘The gunmen were saying sisi ni al-Shabaab (Swaihi for we are al-Shabaab).’
Mr Wetangula said he could hear the gunmen interrogating fellow students hiding inside their rooms about their religion.
He said: ‘If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die.’
The gunmen started to shoot rapidly and it was as if there was an exchange of fire, he said.
‘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 approximately 20 others to safety.
As they were running, al-Shabaab snipers on top of a three-storey building attempted to gun them down.
He added: ‘We started running and bullets were whizzing past our heads and the soldiers told us to dive.’
Fellow student, Augustine Alanga, 21, described a panicked scene as gunshots rang out outside their dormitory.
He said he saw at least five heavily-armed terrorists wearing masks.
He said: ‘I am just now recovering from the pain as I injured myself while trying to escape. I was running barefoot.’
He told journalists he crossed barbed-wire fencing to escape the massacre.
Mr Alanga said any students attending morning prayers at the university’s mosque at 5.30am were not attacked.
It is understood that some of the terrorists have taken sniper positions and have been shooting police officers trying to retake the campus
One policeman said: ‘I have counted 14 bodies of dead people being carried out of the campus by a Red Cross ambulance, and they include two of our officers who were also killed
‘We are finding it difficult to access the compound because some of the attackers are on top of a building and are firing at us whenever we try to gain entry.’
A spokesman for al-Shabaab said it was claiming responsibility for the latest atrocity.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabaab’s ‘military operations spokesman’, said: ‘We sorted people out and released the Muslims.
‘There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive. Fighting still goes on inside the college.’
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta confirmed that a hostage situation had now developed between his men and the remaining gunmen, who are holding the students.
Troops have so far cleared three of the four dormitories.
Michael Bwana, a 20-year-old student, said he and other survivors tried to call their friends trapped in the dormitory where gunmen are believed to be holding people hostage, but their phones were switched off.
‘Most of the people still inside there are girls,’ he said.
President Kenyatta said he was going to fast-track the recruitment of 10,000 new police officers to tackle the al-Shabaab menace.
Just last week, the Chief Security Officer at the University of Nairobi feared an attack was imminent and issued a security warning–but it is unclear whether the same information was relayed to Garissa officials.
Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.
‘Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists,’ she told Reuters.
‘Then on Monday our college principal told us . . . that strangers had been spotted in our college.
‘On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked.’