Laughing and taunting their young victims, Al-Shabaab militants separated Christians from Muslims in a day-long raid on Kenya’s Garissa University on 2 April in which 148 people were killed. “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot,” said one student who managed to escape. “With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die.”
“Gunmen forced their way into Garissa University by shooting at the guards manning the main gate at around 5.30 a.m.”, said Kenya Police Chief, Joseph Boinet. Entering an accommodation block, they shot students indiscriminately before singling out the Christians. “When our men arrived,” said Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, on Thursday, “they released some of the people, the Muslims… we are holding the others hostage.”
According to survivor Salias Omosa, they separated the Christians based on “how they were dressed” before killing them. Other witnesses said the gunmen beheaded those who could not recite passages from the Quran. According to Omosa, the attackers were shouting, “We don’t fear death; this will be a good Easter holiday for us”.
Aid worker Reuben Nyaora reported, “There were bodies everywhere in execution lines. We saw people whose heads had been blown off, bullet wounds everywhere; it was a grisly mess.” Finding a scene of total carnage, he said, “everyone seemed dead, but then as we talked, some students who had been hidden for hours came out – some from wardrobes, others from the ceiling, and then others who had lain down with the dead, covered in blood, hidden among their friends who had been killed”.
A local church leader told Barnabas how they had been communicating by SMS to second year student Wendy who had hidden in her wardrobe with four of her dorm mates. “They had resisted the deception by the attackers who called ‘our religion doesn’t allow us to kill women, come out’,” he said. “Many who came out on this call were all shot or slaughtered. The majority of the dead were women.” According to him, “there were 13 Christian Union members in early morning prayers; all were slain with one dying on his knees!”
Assuming responsibility for the attack, Al-Shabaab (the Somali-based insurgency group linked to Al-Qaeda) said, “Kenya is at war with Somalia”. Threatening the country’s citizens, he said, “Kenyan cities will run red with blood”. Survivor Geoffreys recounted how “the killers demanded people to call home and then say: We are dying, because [President] Uhuru has remained defiant to stay in Somalia”.
After Kenyan authorities took the decision in 2011 to send troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to help counter terrorist activity, the country has been plagued with acts of brutality, often against Kenya’s Christian population. The Garissa siege is Al-Shabaab’s deadliest attack to date.
Over 90% of the students at Garissa University were Christians, who came from all over Kenya to study there. Located just 90 miles (150 km) from the Somalia border, the area is vulnerable to attack. Many are asking if this atrocity could have been averted with the extra security promised after Al-Shabaab targeted Christian populations in Mandera county, which borders Somalia, in 2014.