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Kenyans march for national security after al Shabaab university massacre

A survivor of an attack by by al Shabaab on a university campus in Garissa, northern Kenya is comforted by a colleague after arriving in Nairobi on April 4, 2015
A survivor of an attack by by al Shabaab on a university campus in Garissa, northern Kenya is comforted by a colleague after arriving in Nairobi on April 4, 2015 AFP /Tony Karumba

Kenyans prepared to march for greater national security Tuesday following last week's massacre by Somalia's al Shabaab Islamists, ahead of a candlelit vigil on the final day of mourning for the 148 people killed by the militants.

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The Kenyan military said on Monday it had launched air strikes on two camps belonging to the al Qaeda-linked militant group in southern Somalia, but anger has been growing over allegations that critical intelligence warnings were missed.

Special forces units took seven hours to reach the university in Garissa last Thursday, some 365 kilometres (225 miles) from the capital, as al Shabaab gunmen stormed dormitory buildings before lining up non-Muslim students for execution in what President Uhuru Kenyatta described as a "barbaric medieval slaughter".

The massacre, Kenya's deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, claimed the lives of 142 students, three police officers and three soldiers.

Tuesday's demonstration was due to begin at 10:00am (0700 GMT) in Nairobi as security forces continued their hunt for those behind the university killings, with the vigil planned for later in the afternoon on the third and final day of national mourning.

The army said it had destroyed both al Shabaab camps targeted by air strikes late Sunday and early Monday morning in the Gedo region of Somalia close to the Kenyan border. It followed a promise by Kenyatta that he would retaliate "in the severest way possible" against the militants for their attack last Thursday.

“The two targets were hit and taken out, the two camps are destroyed,” said army spokesman David Obonyo.

However, al Shabaab denied the camps were hit, saying the air force bombs fell on farmland.

“Kenya has not targeted any of our bases,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, told Reuters.

Battle against al Shabaab

Kenyan airplanes have made repeated strikes in southern Somalia since sending troops into their war-torn neighbour in 2011 to attack al Shabaab bases, with Nairobi later joining the African Union (AU) force fighting the Islamists.

"The bombings are part of the continued process and engagement against al Shabaab, which will go on," Obonyo added.

Al Shabaab fled their power base in Somalia's capital Mogadishu in 2011, and continues to battle the AU force, AMISOM, sent to drive them out. It includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

The group has carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries, notably Kenya and Uganda, in response to their participation in the AU force.

On Saturday, al Shabaab warned of "another bloodbath" unless Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia, and threatened a "long, gruesome war".

Al Shabaab fighters also carried out the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi in September 2013, a four-day siege which left at least 67 people dead.

Five men have been arrested in connection with the university attack, including three alleged "coordinators" captured as they fled towards Somalia, and two others seized in the university compound.

The two arrested on campus included a security guard and a Tanzanian found "hiding in the ceiling" and holding grenades, the interior ministry said.

A $215,000 (200,000 euro) bounty has also been offered for alleged al Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher said to be the mastermind behind the attack and believed to now be in Somalia.

Abattoir-like stench

Authorities on Sunday named one of the four gunmen killed as a fellow Kenyan, highlighting al Shabaab's ability to recruit within the country.

Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said high-flying Abdirahim Abdullahi, an ethnic Somali, was a university law graduate described by those who knew him as an A-grade student and "a brilliant upcoming lawyer".

The spokesman said Abdullahi's father, a local official in the northeastern county of Mandera, had "reported to the authorities that his son had gone missing and suspected the boy had gone to Somalia".

Forensic investigators aided by foreign experts have continued to scour the site, where an AFP reporter on Monday was among the first journalists to enter since the attack, describing bullet-scarred buildings, blood stains on the floors, and an abattoir-like stench across the campus.

Scores of family members of those killed continue an agonising wait for the remains of their loved ones at the main mortuary in Nairobi.

Although Kenyatta has vowed to retaliate for the massacre, there have also been calls for national unity.

In an address to the nation on Saturday, Kenyatta said people’s “justified anger” should not lead to “the victimisation of anyone” – a clear reference to Kenya’s large Muslim and Somali minorities in a country where 80 percent of the population is Christian.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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