, GARISSA, Kenya, Apr 3 – Grieving relatives were Friday searching for news or the remains of their loved ones after Somalia’s Shabaab Islamists massacred 147 in a university in northeastern Kenya.
The day-long siege of Garissa University was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 US embassy bombings and the biggest ever by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants, although the Kenyan government vowed it would not be “intimidated”.
Survivors recounted how the gunmen from Somalia’s Shabaab fighters taunted students before killing them, including forcing them to call their parents to urge them to call for Kenyan troops to leave Somalia — before then still shooting them.
As the gunmen prowled the university rooms hunting down more people to kill, some students smeared blood from their dead friends over their bodies to pretend they too had been shot.
The day-long seige ended with all four of the gunmen detonating suicide vests in a hail of heavy gunfire. At least 79 people were also wounded in the attack on the campus, which lies near the border with Somalia.
On Friday, a huge crowd of traumatised and shocked 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.”
Emergency workers set about collecting the bodies, while Kenyan soldiers patrolled the campus.
Visiting the scene of the carnage, Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery vowed that the country would not bow to terrorist threats.
“Kenya’s government will not be intimidated by the terrorists who have made killing innocent people a way to humiliate the government,” he told reporters, promising the government will “fight back”.
“I am confident we shall win this war against our enemies.”
– ‘Remove your soldiers from Somalia’ –
Hurling grenades and firing automatic rifles, the gunmen had stormed the university at dawn as students were sleeping, shooting dead dozens before setting Muslims free and holding Christians and others hostage.
In the final hour before darkness fell, Kenyan troops stormed a student dormitory where the gunmen were holed up as blasts and fierce gunfire rang out.
Hundreds of students — many of whom escaped in little more than what they were sleeping in — spent Thursday night at nearby military barracks, where they were fed and given clothes.
Maureen Manyengo, a 21-year-old education student from western Kenya, said she hid inside her wardrobe after seeing several friends killed.
“I could hear the attackers telling my friends, ‘Do not worry, we will kill you but we will die too'” she recalled.
“I could also hear them, saying “You will only be safe the day your president removes the soldiers from Somalia.'”.
Several buses were due to transport the traumatised students back to their home areas, while the bodies of those killed were being flown back to the capital Nairobi.
Dozens of family members also gathered Friday at the main Nairobi mortuary to identify their relatives.
The university siege marks the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by Al-Qaeda, when 213 people were killed by a huge truck bomb.
The Shabaab also carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013 when four gunmen killed 67 people in a four-day siege.
During Thursday’s attack, Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the killings were in revenge for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of the African Union’s force backed the country’s internationally-backed government.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia,” Rage said.
Newspapers on Friday were critical that intelligence warnings had been missed.
“The attack was preceded by a number of intelligence alarm bells,” The Star newspaper editorial read, demanding that such warnings must be acted upon.
But newspapers also called for national unity in the wake of the killings.
“Even as we struggle to rise from the rubble of yesterday’s attack, we must once again realise what the enemy wants to trigger,” The Standard’s editorial read.
“They want an internal war in Kenya, the kind of which will trigger destruction and blood-letting they would want to see,” it added.