At least 147 students were massacred when Somalia’s al-Shabab Islamist group attacked a Kenyan university on Thursday, the government said, after the deadliest attack in the country since US embassy bombings in 1998.
Hurling grenades and firing automatic rifles, the masked gunmen stormed the university in the northeastern town of Garissa as students were sleeping, shooting dead dozens before setting Muslims free and holding Christians and others hostage.
There are “147 fatalities confirmed in the Garissa attack,” the national disaster operations center said in a statement, confirming the siege was now over with all attackers dead.
“The operation at Garissa University College has ended, with all four terrorists killed,” the center said, after the attack which lasted some 16 hours from before dawn until well after dark.
At least 79 people were also wounded in the assault, which began when the first grenades were used before dawn to blast open the gates of the university, near the lawless border with war-torn Somalia.
In the final hour before darkness fell, Kenyan troops stormed the student dormitory where the gunmen were holed up as explosions and heavy gunfire rang out. Troops then continued to search the campus for any possible insurgents.
It was the worst attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi by al-Qaeda, when 213 people were killed by a huge truck bomb.
Thursday’s attack was claimed by al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, the same insurgents who carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013, when four gunmen killed at least 67 people in a four-day siege.
In a White House statement, the United States condemned “in the strongest terms” the terrorist attack “against the innocent men and women” of Garissa University College.
“The United States is providing assistance to the Kenyan government, and we will continue to partner with them as well as with others in the region to take on the terrorist group al-Shabab,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
“The United States stands with the people of Kenya, who will not be intimidated by such cowardly attacks,” he said in a statement.
Nigeria’s outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan also condemned Thursday’s attack, describing it as “heinous” and “barbaric”.
A statement from Jonathan’s office said the president “utterly condemns the deliberate targeting of innocent persons, schools and other soft targets by terrorists.”
“Such atrocious, despicable and barbaric acts of violence ought to have no place in any civilised society,” it said.
Jonathan, who was defeated by Muhammadu Buhari in this weekend’s presidential election, said he would continue to work with Kenya, other African countries and the international community “to rid the world of all terrorist groups.”
Nigeria, with the support of troops from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, is battling an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists which has claimed at least 13,000 lives since it began in northeast Nigeria in 2009.