NAIROBI - Kenya’s Garissa University is marking four years since an al-Shabab militant attack claimed nearly 150 lives, most of them students. While the Somali terrorist group has carried out numerous assaults since then, it remains their deadliest attack inside Kenya. Rael Ombuor reports from Nairobi.
Twenty-four-year-old Vitalis Opiyo is a carpenter in Nairobi, but in 2015 he was studying to be a teacher at Garissa University when militants attacked.
Opiyo says early on April 2 that year, he heard what sounded like gunshots, and after some minutes the sound of people screaming.
His two roommates ran outside to see what was happening. It was the last time Opiyo saw them alive.
"After they had dealt with the people outside, they started moving door to door, of which they got into my room. By then I had to hide behind the door. The way you open the door, I was at the back of the door, I just stood there still, so they got in. Maybe I was lucky or it was just by God’s grace I survived. They did not see me,” Opiyo recalls.
In all, al-Shabab terrorists killed 148 people at Garissa University, almost all of them students.
The university took nine months to reopen, but now has 1,500 students, more than double the number in 2015.
Vice Chancellor Ahmed Osman Warfa says they have healed from the tragedy.
“We have moved on because of resilience, because of our marketing strategies and because of what we have done that has brought a lot of students back to the university. We have put up a perimeter wall, we have established a police post, which houses 30 officers,” Warfa said.
After security increased at sites of their previous attacks, al-Shabab hit a softer target this year on January 15. The attack on Nairobi’s Dusit D2 hotel and office complex killed 21 people.
But Kenyan security forces responded quickly and were given credit for keeping the death toll down, compared to previous attacks.
Political analyst and lecturer at Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Sam Kamau, agreed.
“We used to see [an] uncoordinated response that used to take quite long, but with what happened recently with Dusit, even if we lost lives, the number of people who were rescued and the way the whole issue was handled in terms of communication, in terms of response, I think the security forces have learned important lessons,” Kamau said.
Despite improved security, for survivors like Opiyo, the threat of al-Shabab attacks remains a reality for which Kenya must always be prepared.