A male student hostage is escorted out of Garissa University after Kenya Defence Forces ended a siege by terrorist gunmen on April 2, 2015.
Credit: Carl De Souza

In 2013, the Al Qaeda-linked militants killed 67 people at the Westgate Mall in Kenya. They've got the world's attention once again.

4:40 p.m. — Live blog is closed

Here's the wrap from Reuters' Edith Honan in Garissa:

Reuters — Gunmen from the Islamist militant group al Shabaab stormed a university in Kenya and killed at least 147 people on Thursday, in the worst attack on Kenyan soil since the US embassy was bombed in 1998.

The siege ended nearly 15 hours after the Somali group's gunmen shot their way into the Garissa University College campus in a pre-dawn attack, sparing Muslim students and taking many Christians hostage.

Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said four gunmen strapped with explosives were behind the attack, the same number that killed 67 people during the 2013 bloodbath at a shopping mall in Nairobi.

"The operation has ended successfully. Four terrorists have been killed," Nkaissery told Kenyan media.

Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinet said the attackers had "shot indiscriminately" when they entered the university compound.

Police and soldiers surrounded the campus and exchanged gunfire with the attackers throughout the day but were repeatedly repelled. At least 79 people were injured and many airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya's national disaster body said.

Al Shabaab, who carried out the deadly attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013, claimed responsibility for the raid on the campus in Garissa, a town 120 miles from the Somali border.

The group has links to al Qaeda and a record of raids on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops to fight it in its home state of Somalia.

Al Qaeda bombed the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on the same day in 1998, killing 224 people and wounding thousands of people.

The United States condemned the latest attack and offered Kenya help in fighting al Shabaab.

One image provided by a local journalist showed a dozen blood-soaked bodies strewn across a single university classroom in Garissa. But some students managed to escape unaided.

"We heard some gunshots and we were sleeping so it was around five and guys started jumping up and down running for their lives," an unnamed student told Reuters TV.

Authorities offered a 20 million shilling ($215,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of a man called Mohamed Mohamud, described as "most wanted" and linked to the attack.

Police chief Boinet said Kenya had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on four regions near the Somalia border.

Al Shabaab, which seeks to impose its own harsh version of sharia law, has separated Muslims from Christians in some of its previous raids in Kenya, notably late last year in attacks on a bus and at a quarry.

Its repeated raids, together with attacks on churches by home-grown Islamist groups, have strained the cordial relations between Kenya's Muslim and Christian communities.

Having killed more than 200 people in Kenya over the past two years, Al Shabaab has also brought the tourism industry to its knees.

Thursday's attack undermined a renewed drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to persuade foreigners the country is now safe to visit.

On Wednesday, he had urged Kenyans abroad to help attract tourists back despite the wave of militant violence, criticizing a warning from Australia of a possible attack in Nairobi and an advisory from Britain urging its citizens to avoid most coastal resorts.

Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.

"Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists," she told Reuters.

"Then on Monday our college principal told us ... that strangers had been spotted in our college... On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked."

Many Kenyans living in the crime-ridden frontier regions blame the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens from the militants.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa, Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi, Noor Ali in Isiolo, Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Drazen Jorgic, John Stonestreet; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt, Giles Elgood, Larry King)

 

2:20 p.m. EST — Siege over, 147 dead

Kenya's Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre says it's all over. 147 people are dead.

 

2:00 p.m. EST —Amnesty International criticizes Kenyan government for security failures

In a statement published on Amnesty International's website, Muthoni Wanyeki, the Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, had strong words for the Kenyan government, saying it hasn't done enough to protect its citizens living in the north.

We urge the Government of Kenya to act decisively and within the Constitution and the law to ensure protection for those under or at risk of attack in Garissa and other areas of the north,” he said. “Citizens and public servants in the north have repeatedly expressed fears about their vulnerability to Al Shabaab attacks which the Kenyan government has failed to appropriately address. Learning institutions are meant to be safe places for students and their teachers. Their protection must be fully guaranteed.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta admitted during his statement on today's attacks (see blow) that the country has "suffered unnecessarily due to a shortage of security personnel." He promised to fast-track the training of 10,000 new police recruits.  

 

12:02 p.m. EST — Official death toll raised to 70, nighttime curfew set till April 16  

Tragic news coming in from the Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre. Official death toll jumps from 15 to 70. That makes today deadlier than the Westgate Mall attack.

 

11:40 a.m. EST — Everything we know about today's attack, in one infographic

Catch up quickly, thanks to Al Jazeera English.

 

11:25 a.m. EST — Two Al Shabaab militants killed. Rescue operation intensifying

The Kenyan Interior Ministry continues to update the world via Twitter. Now, it's saying that two attackers have been "neutralized" and its rescue operations are intensifying. One Twitter user asked what it meant to "neutralize" a terrorist. The ministry responded in plainer English.

 

10:44 a.m. EST — Kenya says it will prosecute people who share graphic photos from the attack

Kenya's interior ministry​ has a message for social media users and the press: Don't post graphic photos from the scene of the attack or from hospitals... or else.

 

10:25 a.m. EST — Watch/Read Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta's statement on the attack

Statement by Presidentt Uhuru Kenyatta on the Terrorist Attack at Garissa University College, Garissa Count...

Here's the video via Kenya Citizen TV 

 

 

10:05 a.m. EST — 15 dead, 500+ students unaccounted for in Garissa Attack

There's still a lot that's unknown about Al Shabaab's assault on Garissa University College near Kenya's border with Somalia, where the militant group is based.

The official death toll is now up to 15. Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery says 500 students are unaccounted for. 

Around four or five gunmen are believed to be involved in the assault, which according to the Kenyan government, was masterminded by this guy. 

 

 

9:24 a.m. EST — Al Shabaab attacks Kenyan university, killing 14 and taking hostages​

Here's what you need to know to catch up, from Reuters' Drazen Jorgic in Nairobi.

Reuters — At least 14 people were reported killed on Thursday when Islamist militant group al Shabaab stormed a university campus near Kenya's border with Somalia, taking Christian students hostage and battling security forces over several hours.

Police and soldiers surrounded and sealed off Garissa University College and were attempting to flush out the gunmen, the head of Kenya's police force, Joseph Boinet, said.

Al Shabaab, which has links to al Qaeda and a track record of raids on Kenyan soil, claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn attack, in which scores were wounded.

Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, the group's military operations spokesman, said it was holding many Christian hostages inside.

"We sorted people out and released the Muslims," he told Reuters. "Fighting still goes on inside the college."

"The attackers shot indiscriminately while inside the university compound," Boinet said in a statement, adding police had been guarding the university's four hostels at the time.

At least 14 people had been killed, a policeman at the scene said, while the Red Cross said 50 students had been freed.

Others managed to escape the compound unaided.

"We heard some gunshots and we were sleeping so it was around five and guys started jumping up and down running for their lives," an unnamed student told Reuters TV.

Sixty-five people were wounded, the country's National Disaster Operation Center said on its Twitter feed. Four had been airlifted to Nairobi for treatment.

"We have 49 casualties so far, all with bullet and (shrapnel) wounds," said a doctor at Garissa hospital.

Al Shabaab, which seeks to impose its own harsh variant of sharia law, had separated Muslims from Christians in some of its previous raids in Kenya, notably late last year in attacks on a bus and at a quarry.

Its repeated raids, together with attacks on churches by home-grown Islamist groups, have in recent years strained the historically cordial relations between Kenya's Muslim and Christian communities.

Thursday's attack also marked a setback in a drive by President Uhuru Kenyatta to persuade foreigners the country is safe to visit.

On Wednesday, he urged Kenyans abroad to help woo tourists back despite the wave of militant violence, criticizing a warning from Australia of a possible attack in Nairobi and an advisory from Britain urging its citizens to avoid most coastal resorts.

Kenyatta was due to address the nation about the Garissa attack later on Thursday.

Grace Kai, a student at the Garissa Teachers Training College near the university, said there had been warnings that an attack in the town could be imminent.

"Some strangers had been spotted in Garissa town and were suspected to be terrorists," she told Reuters.

"Then on Monday our college principal told us ...that strangers had been spotted in our college... On Tuesday we were released to go home, and our college closed, but the campus remained in session, and now they have been attacked."

Al Shabaab had previously carried out attacks in Garissa, which lies around 120 miles from the porous Somali border.

Many Kenyans living in the crime-ridden frontier regions blame the government for not doing enough to protect its citizens from the militants.

Having declared it would punish Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight it alongside African Union peacekeepers, it was also responsible for a deadly attack in 2013 on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. 

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