At 5:30am on the morning of Thursday April 2nd Al Shabaab terrorists, stormed Garissa University College in Garissa town in northern Kenya. They shot the guards at the gate and began a massacre with the highest fatalities since the 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi. In total 148 people were killed, 142 were students, the other six people killed included police officers and a soldier.
The alarm was sounded at 6:00am at the base of the Recce Company (Recce Company is the special forces unit within the paramilitary wing of the Kenya Police known as the General Service Unit). The alarm was raised by police officers who were overwhelmed during the attack. However it was not until 12:30pm on the fateful Thursday that they officers took off from Wilson airport landing in Garissa at 1:56pm. They were briefed for two hours upon arrival. Some of the team travelled by road could not fit the entire team and their equipment into the two planes they travelled in and when the rest of the team members arrived Recce company launched the final assault at 5:00pm on Thursday, subduing the terrorists within 12 minutes. This response has been criticized as too slow, with Kenyans wondering whether this late deployment contributed to the high number of casualties. 148 people were killed in the attack which is a higher death toll than the attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi which Al Shabaab terrorists killed 72 people. It is reported that local police had received intelligence of an impending attack either at Garissa University itself or the medical training college in the same area. Four police officers were deployed to provide security. Security analyst, retired Major Bashir Abdullahi said that security forces should not have waited so long to storm the campus and those casualties would have been much lower had they launched a counter attack within the hour.
The first students to be killed were members of the university’s Christian Union who had gathered in a classroom to pray in the early hours of Thursday morning. As other students ran for safety they remained and continued with their prayers. All 22 were shot dead.
The attackers taunted and laughed at the victims, making some of them call their family members to tell them that they were about to die. Some families had to listen over the phone as their loved ones were being killed.
Cynthia Cherotich, a student at Garissa University, hid under a pile of clothes the hostel closet and played dead during the attack. She remained hidden for two days during which she ate body lotion to try to assuage hunger and thirst.
On Saturday April 4th, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of mourning for the people killed at Garissa University, during which the country’s flag would be flown at half mast. President Uhuru Kenyatta also announced that the government would assist the victims and their families with medical as well as funeral expenses.
The terrorists took more than 800 students hostage, more than 600 were rescued.
Four terrorists were killed and five other people were arrested in connection with the attack. The terrorists also wore suicide vests and one of them blew himself up injuring members of the Recce team. One of the terrorists killed in the attack was a 24 year old Mohammed Abdirahim Abdullahi, a former law student at the University of Nairobi, however he dropped out of the university and was widely believed to have gone to join Al Shabaab. His father had reported to the police when he disappeared in 2013 that he suspected that Abdullahi had gone to Somalia as he could no longer reach him by phone or through his social media accounts, his friends did not know his whereabouts either. Of the people arrested, three are suspected to have coordinated the attack and they were arrested as they tried to flee into Somalia. The other two suspects were arrested within Garissa University, one Rashid Charles Mberesero a Tanzanian was hiding in a ceiling at the university and had grenades when he was arrested during the siege, the other Osman Abdi Dakane, a Kenyan Somali was a guard at the university and is suspected to have aided the attackers, Dakane had materials with Jihadist tutorials.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said “Our security demands that we continue the difficult and daunting task of identifying, separating, tracking and deterring the enemy not only in Kenya but in Somalia alongside our African and international allies. This is why I am calling on all leaders, at all levels of government, in civil society and in the political opposition to speak in a united voice that reflects the importance of sustaining this initiative.” indicating that Kenya would not withdraw from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This is in spite of calls by some leaders that Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia in the wake of the attack. However other leaders insist that withdrawing Kenyan troops from Somalia would only encourage terrorists to intensify attacks. President Uhuru Kenyatta added that Kenyan Somalis and Muslims are not victims of marginalization or oppression by the rest of Kenya and that they enjoy the full rights, privileges and duties of every Kenyan.
On Saturday, April 4th, residents of the Eastleigh section of Nairobi in Kenya, most of them Muslims, came out to march in protest against the attacks. They rebuked the terrorist attack saying that Islam does not condone the killing of innocent people. They were led by the Secretary General of the Eastleigh Business Community, Mr. Ahmed Mohammed said that Al Shabaab kill Muslims in Somalia and when they come to Kenya they kill Christians as part of their strategy to divide the country along religious lines.
On Easter Sunday April 5th, many Christian Kenyans thronged to heavily guarded church services where they mourned those who were killed and religious gave condolensce messages to the families of those who had passed and called for national unity in the face of terrorism. Africa Inland Church of Kenya (AIC) Presiding Bishop Silas Yego also noted that Christians were fleeing the areas in Kenya that are prone to terrorism. Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop Eliud Wabukala urged Muslim leaders to review their teachings, saying “There is a need for religious leaders in the Muslim faith to re-examine their teachings so that they are able to help us in nurturing good young people who can respect life, people who can work together just as our faith teaches us to love one another and to work together”.
US President Barack Obama and US First Lady Michelle Obama sent a message of condolences saying, in part, “We will stand hand-in-hand with the Kenyan government and the people against the scourge of terrorism and in their efforts to bring communities together”. Other world leaders, including the Pope have sent their condolences and condemned the killings.
The attack on Garissa University College and the massacre of 142 students is particularly painful as Kenyans sacrifice a lot to educate their children and many of the students were from lower income families. Some families sold their family land to send their children to college. To put this in perspective, these are not wealthy land owners, they have or had small parcels of land which their families lived on for generations and were the entire families’ only source of income from which they would try to eke out a living through small scale farming. Some of the students killed at Garissa University were their families’ only source of hope for a better life. Garissa University College has been closed indefinitely, the surviving students will be transferred to its parent university Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya.