'A long, gruesome war: cities will run red with blood...'
Chilling warning from Al-Shabaab but rescuers discover survivor who hid in cupboard for two days
Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30
When AL-SHABAAB gunmen burst through the gates of her Kenyan university at dawn on Thursday, Cynthia Cheroitich crawled into a cupboard and hid under a pile of clothes.
For 13 hours, she listened to the screams of her classmates and bursts of heavy gunfire before the militants' killing spree was halted by special forces troops.
Terrified, the 19-year-old student spent two more nights hiding in the darkness, praying for her survival and drinking body lotion in an attempt to stave off her thirst as rescue workers moved through the blood-spattered dormitories, counting the bodies. She was discovered yesterday morning but was so petrified that the police were masquerading as the terrorists that one of her teachers had to be fetched to persuade her to come out. "I was just praying to my God," said Miss Cheroitich, a Christian, of her ordeal.
Sitting in a hospital bed yesterday, she is among the survivors of the Garissa University massacre in which 148 people died, including three policemen, three soldiers and two security guards.
The Kenyan authorities drove the naked, bullet-ridden bodies of the four attackers who also died through Garissa on a pick-up truck yesterday, either to serve as a deterrent to others thinking of joining Al-Shabaab or in the hope that the hundreds of locals who saw the corpses might be able to identify them.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, promised to take harsh measures against Islamist militants, warning that the planners and financiers of attacks like the one in Garissa are "deeply embedded in our communities".
Declaring three days of national mourning, the president said his administration "shall respond in the severest ways possible" to the Garissa attack. "We will fight terrorism to the end," he said.
Al-Shabaab warned yesterday of more attacks to come against civilians in Kenya, which contributes to an African Union force fighting the militants in neighbouring Somalia.
"This will be a long, gruesome war of which you, the Kenyan public, are its first casualties," the terror group said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
"Kenyan cities will run red with blood."
Photographs have emerged showing students lying dead in pools of blood, some trailing for metres as they tried to drag themselves to safety. In one, they lie in a classroom of upended chairs and tables.
In another, up to 70 lie on their stomachs in rows in a hall, seemingly executed.
"The mujahideen stormed the university compound and swiftly proceeded to the halls of residence where they had gathered all the occupants," the Al-Shabaab statement said. "Since the attack targeted only non-Muslims, all Muslims were allowed to safely evacuate the premises before executing the disbelievers."
Security measures were stepped up across the east African country ahead of Easter Sunday today. Malls increased their numbers of private security guards, public buildings were assigned armed police protection, police foot patrols were increased and helicopters swept crowds in coastal areas where attacks have centred previously.
President Barack Obama confirmed on Friday he would still visit Kenya later this year and called Mr Kenyatta to reassure him the United States would stand "hand in hand" with his government.
The authorities have pledged a 20m Kenyan Shillings (€190,000) bounty for the capture of Dulyadin Gamadhere, a former religious schoolteacher who they say masterminded the attack. Police said they were interviewing five suspects after making three additional arrests on Friday. Two of those are reported to be a university security guard who had "jihadi material" in his possession, an interior ministry spokesman said, and a Tanzanian man found hiding in the university's ceiling with hand grenades after the siege ended.
Three more people were arrested trying to cross into Somalia, the spokesman added, describing the men as associates of Gamadhere.
Yesterday, as the families of those still missing packed into a Nairobi sports stadium to await updates from the authorities, Garissa students posted pictures of their smiling friends and begged for information about their whereabouts on social media websites, sometimes hearing the worst from others who knew them.
Meanwhile, further harrowing tales of survival emerged from the hospitals where the 104 injured in the attack are being treated. A heavily pregnant student told how she smeared herself with her friend's blood and played dead for 10 hours in a desperate attempt to escape. Millicent Murugi, an education student from eastern Kenya, said the attackers told them they had stolen their guns from the Kenyan military.
She said they taunted them, saying: "You pay taxes to buy guns which we are now using to kill you", and "your security agents are cowards and cannot save you." "I slowly took blood from a dead colleague lying beside me and smeared it all over my head and hands," Miss Murugi told Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper. "I played dead for 10 hours."