Death toll from al Shabaab attack rises to 147
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Militants from Somalia's al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group killed at least 147 people after storming a university campus in northeast Kenya on Thursday, the country’s disaster response agency said.
The Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre wrote on its official Twitter feed: “147 fatalities confirmed in the Garissa Attack. Plans are under way to evacuate students and other affected persons.”
The interior ministry said that most of those killed were students but two police officers, one soldier and two guards also died in the siege.
Kenya's interior cabinet secretary, Joseph Nkaissery, said the four al Shabaab gunmen had strapped themselves with explosives. When Kenyan officers shot them, the attackers exploded “like bombs” and the resulting shrapnel injured the police officers.
Survivors described a harrowing scene in which people were mercilessly gunned down and bullets whistled through the air as they ran for their lives at Garissa University College, which lies near the Somali border.
Al Shabaab said earlier that it had released Muslims while killing some Christians and taking others hostage.
"We sorted people out and released the Muslims," Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab's military operations spokesman, told Reuters.
"There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive. Fighting still goes on inside the college."
Students flee carnage
Terrified students were seen streaming out of the campus buildings, some young men shirtless, as arriving police officers hunkered down, taking cover.
Collins Wetangula, the vice chairman of the student union, told AP he was preparing to take a shower when he heard gunshots coming from a neighbouring student residence.
When he heard the gunshots he locked himself and three roommates in their room.
“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots,” he said. “The gunmen were saying ‘We are al Shabaab’.”
Wetangula described how he heard the gunmen opening doors and asking if the people who had hidden inside whether they were Muslims or Christians.
“If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot,” he said. “With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die."
Augustine Alanga, a 21-year-old student, described a panicked scene as gunshots rang out outside their dormitory in the pre-dawn hours when most people were asleep.
The shooting became more intense almost immediately, with the heavy gunfire forcing some students to stay indoors as others fled with gunmen firing at them.
"I am just now recovering from the pain as I injured myself while trying to escape. I was running barefoot,'' said Alanga, who was one of scores of students who managed to escape through barbed-wire fencing.
The gunmen opened fire triggering a “fierce shootout'” with the police guarding student dorms, Kenya's National Police Service said in a written statement.
Kenya's northern and eastern regions, which are near the Somali border, have suffered many attacks blamed on al Shabaab.
The Islamist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight its militants. Kenya sent troops in 2011 to fight al Shabaab following a series of cross-border attacks.
Al Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Garissa and across Kenya in the past, including the 2013 attack on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in the capital Nairobi.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)