As Kenya mourns, survivors of campus attack give harrowing accounts of bloodshed

The 20-year-old student called home from the university being besieged by Islamic militants and frantically told her father, “There are gunshots everywhere! Tell Mum to pray for me — I don’t know if I will survive.”

GARISSA, Kenya — The 20-year-old student called home from the university being besieged by Islamic militants and frantically told her father, “There are gunshots everywhere! Tell Mum to pray for me — I don’t know if I will survive.”

The call by Elizabeth Namarome Musinai at dawn Thursday was one of several her family received as the attack and hostage drama unfolded at Garissa University College, where gunmen from the al-Shabab militant group killed 148 people.

Then, about 1 p.m., a man got on the line to demand that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta be contacted within two minutes and told to remove troops from neighbouring Somalia, where they are fighting al-Shabab extremists.

He phoned back promptly. When told the president had not been contacted, he said, “I am going to kill your daughter.” Three gunshots followed, and he hung up. When Elizabeth’s father, Fred Kaskon Musinai, called the man back, he said he was told: “She is now with her God.”

Musinai said he is still hanging on to hope that Elizabeth somehow survived, although she is not on the list of wounded, which now numbers 104. He has travelled from his home in Kitale to Nairobi, where the dead are being brought to a morgue for families to identify and claim.

Survivors and relatives gave other harrowing accounts of the siege by Islamic extremists as Kenya on Friday mourned the victims of the attack, the deadliest since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi that killed more than 200 people.

At the Nairobi morgue, screaming and crying family members were assisted by Red Cross staffers, who tried to console them.

Archbishop John Njue, who conducted Good Friday services, cited the “murdered” students and said, “This is a tremendous challenge in our country.”

Pope Francis condemned the attack as an act of “senseless brutality” and called for those responsible to change their violent ways. In a telegram of condolence, Francis also urged Kenyan authorities to work to bring an end to such attacks and “hasten the dawn of a new era of brotherhood, justice and peace.”

The gunmen singled out Christians at the university, killing them on the spot. But Muslims also were among the dead, as were women, even though the attackers had said at one point that they, too, would be spared.

The masked attackers — strapped with explosives and armed with AK-47s — battled troops and police before the violence ended after about 13 hours.

In announcing an updated figure of 148 people killed by the gunmen, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said 142 of the dead were students, three were policemen and three were soldiers.

Police worked at the Garissa campus Friday, taking fingerprints from the bodies of the four slain gunmen and of the students and security officials who died, for identification purposes.

Security forces guarded the gates of the school. Its slogans on the wall outside said “Oasis of Innovation” and “A World Class University of Technological Processes and Development.”

Elsewhere in Garissa, soldiers blocked a group of women that approached a military-controlled site where students were awaiting evacuation, prompting several women to collapse, shrieking, in the dust for several minutes. A bystander said the son of one of the women had died in the attack.

Survivor Helen Titus said one of the first things the al-Shabab gunmen did when they entered the campus was to head for a lecture hall where Christians were in prayer.

“They investigated our area. They knew everything,” said Titus, a Christian, who was being treated in Garissa for a bullet wound to the wrist.

The 21-year-old English literature student told The Associated Press that she smeared blood from classmates on her face and hair and played dead at one point.

The gunmen also told students hiding in dormitories to come out, assuring them that they would not be killed, Titus said.

“We just wondered whether to come out or not,” she said. Many students did, and the gunmen shot them anyway.

Esther Wanjiru said she was awake at the time of the attack. Asked if she lost anyone, she said: “My best friend.”

Another survivor, Nina Kozel, said she was awakened by screaming and that many students ran to the fences and jumped over them. Some suffered bruises, she said. Many were unable to escape and hid in vain under beds and in closets in their rooms, she added.

“They were shot there and then,” she said, adding that the killers shouted “God is great” in Arabic.

Those who surrendered were either selected for killing, or freed in some cases, apparently because they were Muslim, she said.

A spokesman for the group, Ali Mohamud Rage, said it was responsible for the attack. Al-Shabab has struck several times in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, to retaliate against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants and stabilize the government in Mogadishu.

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for stronger collaboration between his country and Kenya to defeat al-Shabab.

The U.N. Security Council expressed outrage — a word it rarely uses — in condemning the attack. A statement approved by all 15 council members paid tribute to Kenya’s role in fighting “terrorism” — especially its role in the African Union’s mission in Somalia against al-Shabab.

Some Kenyans were angry the Kenyan government didn’t take sufficient security precautions. The attack came six days after Britain advised “against all but essential travel” to parts of Kenya, including Garissa.

A day before the attack, Kenyatta dismissed that warning as well as an Australian one pertaining to Nairobi and Mombasa, saying: “Kenya is safe as any country in the world. The travel advisories being issued by our friends are not genuine.”

Previous travel warnings have hurt the country’s tourism industry.

One man posted a photo on Twitter showing about 100 bodies lying face-down on a blood-smeared courtyard with the comment: “Our inaction is betrayal to these Garissa victims”

Babu Owino, the chairman of the Students Organization for Nairobi University, said the government’s behaviour shows it is not serious in fighting extremist attacks.

A small group of demonstrators walked down a main road in Garissa with signs that read “We are against the killing of innocent Kenyans!!!! We are tired!!” and “Enough is enough. No more killing!! We are with you, our fellow Kenyans.”

“We feel very sorry for them and we condemn the attack,” demonstrator Abdullahi Muktar said of the victims.

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