herald

Tuesday 6 December 2016

I smeared blood on my face to escape gunmen who killed 147 - student

When al-Shabaab gunmen went on a killing spree at Garissa University College in eastern Kenya, Hellen Titus played dead by smearing other students' blood on her face.

"As soon as I heard shooting, I knew it was al-Shabaab," the 21-year-old bachelor of education student said as she recovered from a gunshot wound to her right wrist at Garissa Hospital. "They killed Christians praying in the morning. They separated the women from the men and told us the Koran forbids them to kill women. But they tricked us and started killing the women."

Toll

The death toll in an assault by Somali militants on a Kenyan university is likely to climb above 147, a government source and media said yesterday, as anger grew among local residents over what they say was failure by the Kenyan government to prevent bloodshed.

Strapped with explosives, masked al Shabaab gunmen stormed the Garissa University College campus, some 200km from the Somali border, in a pre-dawn rampage on Thursday.

Tossing grenades and spraying bullets at cowering students, the attackers initially killed indiscriminately. But they later freed some Muslims and instead targeted Christian students during a siege that lasted about 15 hours.

Anger over the massacre was compounded by the fact there were warnings last week that an attack on a university was imminent. Local residents accused the authorities of doing little to boost security.

More than 400 people have been killed by al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab in the east African nation since President Uhuru Kenyatta took office in 2013, including some 67 people who died in a blitz on a shopping mall in the capital Nairobi in September of that year.

warning

The group, which at one point controlled most of Somalia, has lost swathes of territory in recent years but diplomats have repeatedly warned this has not diminished al Shabaab's ability to stage guerrilla-style attacks.

Survivors of the Garissa attack spoke of merciless executions by the attackers, who stalked classrooms and dormitories hunting for non-Muslim students.

Reuben Mwavita (21), a student, said he saw three female students kneeling in front of the gunmen, begging for mercy. "The mistake they made was to say 'Jesus, please save us', because that is when they were immediately shot," Mwavita said.

Many students fled into the sandy scrubland, scaling barbed-wire fences and jumping off buildings, often half-naked, as they were awoken by the sound of gunfire and explosions.

"The attackers were just in the next room. I heard them ask people whether they were Christian or Muslim, then I heard gunshots and screams," said Susan Kitoko(24), who broke her hip when she jumped out of the first floor window of her dorm.

Within hours of the attack, Kenya put up a €195,000 reward for the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud, a former Garissa teacher linked by Kenyan media to two separate attacks last year.

hnews@herald.ie

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