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Survivors Describe Devastating Kenyan University Attack

  • Gabe Joselow

A day after the horror, this hospital some 200 kilometers from the Somali border has become the central meeting point for survivors of a daylong siege by al-Shabab militants at Garissa University College that left 147 people dead.

Sitting on a shady bench and a wearing a hospital gown, second-year student Quintin Anyango says she awoke early to study in a lecture hall.

Crossing the campus, she encountered several gunmen, and her day took a horrifying turn.

“Oh, I had no hope, I knew that was the end of life since I had no options," she said. "I had nowhere to go.”

Hiding in a classroom with another student, Anyango tried to remain still. They could do nothing but listen to the attack unfold in a nearby room.

“Just gunshots, gunshots — nothing else.”

The assault began when assailants stormed the university gate at dawn, killing two guards and proceeding to the residence halls. After battling Kenyan Defense Forces for nearly 16 hours, all the gunmen were dead, adding to a death toll that is now more than twice the number slaughtered in the 2013 siege on Nairobi's Westgate Mall, which was also blamed on the al-Qaida linked militants.

On Friday, the same security forces that battled the militants maintained a heavy presence in Garissa, a dusty frontier town whose residents have long called for better security after a spate of small-scale gun and grenade attacks in recent years.

Harrison Ombore, a teacher at a Garissa school, says security forces here even ignored recent government warnings of an impending attack.

“Yes, there was a warning that terror would take place after some three days, and it’s like the security agencies did not take it seriously," he said. "Until what happened yesterday, they’re reacting after things have gone wrong."

Some survivors say the gunmen tried to single out Christian students while sparing Muslims, but others say the assailants were anything but precise in their killing.

One survivor, an employee at the university who asked not to be named, said he was performing his ablutions — ritual washing — outside the mosque ahead of morning prayers when the gunmen entered the campus.

“I hear them saying everyone should lie down, lie down, lie down," he said, adding that they began firing indiscriminately anyway, and that he knew Muslims who are among the dead.

The employee also says he thanks the Kenyan military for eventually rescuing him and the other survivors, even though he still suffers the pain of loss.

“Personally, I know all those students," he said. "As we are speaking I feel like crying, but I ask my brothers who lost their lives [for strength], God bless your soul."

Meanwhile, al-Shabab has vowed to continue attacking Kenya for the presence of its troops in Somalia. The Islamist militant group named no targets, but it is likely that towns like Garissa are in their crosshairs.

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