Wednesday 26 October 2016

Survivor of Kenya university attack found two days after extremists killed 148 people

* Kenya in shock over biggest attack in nearly two decades
* Al Shabaab has now killed more than 400 people in Kenya
* Government hunts "most wanted" suspect; CNN reports five arrests
* Obama vows he will still visit in July
* Survivors tell of point-blank executions

Edith Honan

Published 04/04/2015 | 07:51

A relative is assisted by Red Cross staff as bodies of the students killed in Thursday's attack by gunmen, arrive at the Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi April 3. Reuters/Herman Kariuki
A relative is assisted by Red Cross staff as bodies of the students killed in Thursday's attack by gunmen, arrive at the Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi April 3. Reuters/Herman Kariuki

A survivor of the killings at Garissa University College was found today, two days after the attack by Islamic extremists killed 148 people.

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Authorities rescued a survivor who had been hiding in the college since Thursday.

Cynthia Charotich, 19, said from her hospital bed today that she hid in a large cupboard and covered herself with clothes, refusing to emerge even when some of her classmates came out of hiding at the demands of the gunmen from the al Shabab group.

Kenyan officials said she was rescued shortly before 10am.

Ms Charotich said she did not believe that rescuers urging her to come out of her hiding place were there to help, suspecting at first that they were militants.

Strapped with explosives, masked al Shabaab gunmen stormed the Garissa University College campus, some 200 km (120 miles) from the Somali border, in a pre-dawn rampage on Thursday.

Red Cross workers with a woman who identified a murdered relative. Photo: AP
Red Cross workers with a woman who identified a murdered relative. Photo: AP

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 in this little-developed region.

Read more: Kenya university attack: 147 dead after terrorists' rampage

Five people have been arrested in connection with the attack, CNN reported on Friday, citing Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery.

A Kenyan soldier runs for cover.
A Kenyan soldier runs for cover.

"It's because of laxity by the government that these things are happening. For something like this to happen when there are those rumours is unacceptable," said Mohamed Salat, 47, a Somali Kenyan businessman.

Officials said almost 150 people died, with at least 79 wounded, many critically. But with an uncertain number of students and staff still missing, the casualties may yet mount.

"Yes, there is a likelihood of numbers going up," said one government source dealing with the Garissa attack.

Kenya's biggest-selling Daily Nation newspaper, citing sources, said the death toll would be significantly higher.

Outside the university gates, a throng of veiled women clung to the hope that missing people would still turn up alive.

Barey Bare, 36, looking for her cousin who worked as a clerk at the university and has been missing since Thursday, said: "We are here waiting for news if we can find him, dead or alive."

Read more: Masked gunmen attack university in Kenya

The violence will heap further pressure on President Uhur Kenyatta, who has struggled to stop frequent militant gun and grenade attacks that have dented Kenya's image abroad and brought the country's vital tourism industry to its knees.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to express condolences over the "heinous terrorist attack" and confirmed he still planned to visit the country later this year, the White House said.

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

Al Qaeda itself killed some 207 people when it blew up the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998, an attack which remains the single biggest loss of life in Kenya since its independence from Britain in 1963.

Al Shabaab says its recent wave of attacks are retribution for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to fight the group alongside other African Union peacekeepers.

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 at home and abroad.


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

Read more: 147 die in Kenya university rampage

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 20 million shillings ($215,000) reward for the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud, a former Garissa teacher labelled "Most Wanted" in a government poster and linked by Kenyan media to two separate al Shabaab attacks in the neighbouring Mandera region last year.

The government also imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Garissa, Mandera and two other crime-ridden regions near the porous border with Somalia.

However, diplomats and analysts say the move effectively concedes the government cannot control those areas, widely seen as Kenya's soft underbelly.

As such, al Shabaab is likely to continue its strategy of attacking "low risk and high reward" soft targets in marginalized parts of the country, according to Ahmed Salim, a senior associate at Teneo Intelligence.

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