Kenya university massacre: 5 suspects arrested, death toll reaches 148

  • Agencies, Garissa, Kenya
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2015 09:16 IST

Five people have been arrested in connection with an attack on a Kenyan university that killed at least 148 people, CNN reported on Friday, citing Kenyan interior minister Joseph Nkaissery.

Masked Al Shabaab gunmen strapped with explosives stormed the Garissa University College campus, some 200 km (120 miles) from the Somali border, in a pre-dawn rampage on Thursday.

CNN gave no further details on the arrests.

A victim of the attack on a Kenyan university, arrives at the Kenyatta hospital. REUTERS

At least 148 students were massacred when Somalia's Shebab Islamist group attacked a Kenyan university on Thursday, the government said, after the deadliest attack in the country since US embassy bombings in 1998.

Hurling grenades and firing automatic rifles, the masked gunmen stormed the university in the northeastern town of Garissa as students were sleeping, shooting dead dozens before setting Muslims free and holding Christians and others hostage.

There are "147 fatalities confirmed in the Garissa attack," the national disaster operations centre said in a statement, confirming the seige was now over with all attackers dead.

"The operation at Garissa University College has ended, with all four terrorists killed," the centre said, after the attack which lasted some 16 hours from before dawn until well after dark.

At least 79 people were also wounded in the assault, which began 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. Troops then continued to search the campus for any possible insurgents.

A Kenya Defense Force soldier takes cover near the perimeter wall where attackers are holding up at a campus in Garissa. REUTERS

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 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."

India's official spokesperson of ministry of external affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, condemned the attacks.

"India strongly condemns barbaric terrorist attack on a university campus at Garissa in north-eastern Kenya. India stands in solidarity with the bereaved families & conveys condolences to Government & people of Kenya," he tweeted an hour after the attack came to an end.

A Kenya Defense Force soldier runs for cover near the perimeter wall where attackers are holding up at a campus in Garissa. REUTERS

'Gunmen shot indiscriminately'

A $215,000 (200,000 euro) bounty was offered for the capture of alleged Shebab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher believed to now be in Somalia and said to be the mastermind of the Garissa attacks.

Police chief Joseph Boinet said "the gunmen shot indiscriminately" after storming the compound.

The sprawling campus on the outskirts of town has both teaching areas as well as residential blocks. The university has several hundred students from different parts of Kenya.

Kenya Defence Forces tank drives outside the Garissa university college. (AP Photo)

Wave of attacks

A dawn until dusk curfew has been imposed on several northern and eastern Kenyan districts.

Kenya has been hit by a wave of grenade and gun attacks, often blamed on sympathisers of the Shebab and sometimes aimed at police targets, since the army crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to attack Islamist bases.

A series of foreign travel warnings in response to the threat have crippled Kenya's economically important tourism industry.
On Wednesday, just hours before the Garissa attack began, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya "is as safe as any country in the world".

On Thursday, he offered condolences to those killed, but said security forces had made the "appropriate deployment to the affected area."

However, he also ordered the "urgent" enrolment of a planned 10,000 police recruit boost, warning Kenya had "suffered unnecessarily due to shortage of security personnel."

British High Commissioner Christian Turner condemned the "cowardly" attack, while US ambassador Robert Godec called the killings "heinous".

UN envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said the attack showed once again the "shocking brutality of Al-Shebab."

Kenya's government has been under fire since the Westgate attack. In June and July last year Shebab gunmen killed close to 100 people in a series of attacks on the town of Mpeketoni and nearby villages.

In November, Shebab claimed responsibility for holding up a bus outside Mandera town, separating passengers according to religion and murdering 28 non-Muslims. Ten days later 36 non-Muslim quarry workers were also massacred in the area.

(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)

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