Grieving relatives were searching for news about the fate of their loved ones after Somalia's Al-Shabab fighters killed at least 147 people in a university in northeastern Kenya. A government source and media said Friday that the death toll was likely to rise.
Masked Al-Shabab gunmen Thursday stormed the Garissa University College campus, some 120 miles from the Somalia border, in a pre-dawn rampage. Tossing grenades and spraying bullets at cowering students, the Al-Qaeda-linked attackers initially killed indiscriminately. But they later reportedly freed some Muslims and instead targeted Christian students during a siege that lasted about 15 hours.
On Friday, a huge crowd of traumatized survivors and relatives of those killed or missing gathered at the university gate.
“I am so worried, I had a son who was among the students trapped inside the college, and since yesterday I have heard nothing,” said Habel Mutinda, an elderly man, his face streaming with tears.
“I tried to identify his body among those killed ... I have to do that before the body goes bad in the heat. I have been camping overnight. It is really hard, it hurts.”
Anger over the massacre was compounded by the fact that there were warnings last week that an attack on a university was imminent. Local residents accused authorities of doing little to boost security in this little developed region.
“It’s because of laxity by the government that these things are happening. For something like this to happen when there are those rumors is unacceptable,” said Mohamed Salat, 47, a Somali Kenyan businessman.
Officials said almost 150 people died, with at least 79 wounded, many critically. But with an uncertain number of students and staff still missing, the casualties may yet mount.
“Yes there is likelihood of numbers going up,” said one government source dealing with the Garissa attack.
Kenya’s biggest-selling Daily Nation newspaper, citing sources, said the death toll would be significantly higher.
The violence will heap further pressure on President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has struggled to stop frequent gun and grenade attacks that have dented Kenya’s image abroad and brought the country’s vital tourism industry to its knees.
Al-Shabab has killed more than 400 people in the east African nation since Kenyatta took office in April 2013, including some 67 people who died in a blitz on a shopping mall in the capital Nairobi in September of that year.
Al-Shabab, which is based in neighboring Somalia, says its recent wave of attacks are retribution for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to fight the group there.
Within hours of the attack, Kenya put up a reward of 20 million shillings ($215,000) for the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud, a former Garissa teacher labeled “Most Wanted” in a government poster and linked by Kenyan media to two separate Al-Shabab attacks in the neighboring Mandera region last year.
Analysts and diplomats say Kenya's security services remain disjointed and questions have been raised by Kenyan media about how four gunmen were able to hold off hundreds of security personnel, including soldiers and elite police units.
One Western diplomat said Kenya, a staunch ally in the fight against radicalism in Africa, continues to receive help from Western intelligence agencies but struggles to act on it.
“The fundamental challenge for them is being able to deal with that kind of information, and their capacity and capability of digesting it,” said the diplomat.