Al Jazeera, Agencies
NAIROBI – Grieving relatives were searching for news or the remains of their loved ones after Somalia’s al-Shabab fighters killed at least 147 in a university in northeastern Kenya.
The day-long siege of Garissa University College was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 US embassy bombings and the biggest ever by the al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters, although the Kenyan government on Friday vowed it would not be “intimidated”.
Survivors recounted how the gunmen taunted students before killing them, including forcing them to call their parents to urge them to call for Kenyan troops to leave Somalia.
As the gunmen prowled the university rooms hunting down more people to kill, some students smeared blood from their dead friends over their bodies to pretend they too had been shot.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Garissa, said some are suggesting the death toll might be higher.
The day-long siege ended with all four of the gunmen detonating suicide vests in a hail of heavy gunfire.
At least 79 people were also wounded in the attack on the campus, which lies around 200 km away from the border with Somalia.
On Friday, a huge crowd of traumatized and shocked survivors and relatives of those killed or missing gathered at the university gate.
“I am so worried, I had a son who was among the students trapped inside the college, and since yesterday I have heard nothing,” said Habel Mutinda, an elderly man, his face streaming with tears.
“I tried to identify his body among those killed… I have to do that before the body goes bad in the heat.. I have been camping overnight, it is really hard, it hurts.”
Emergency workers set about collecting the bodies, while Kenyan soldiers patrolled the campus. At the Garissa airstrip, hundreds of students, survivors of the incident, awaiting to be taken home.
Visiting the scene of the carnage, Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery vowed that the country would “not bow to terrorist threats”.
“Kenya’s government will not be intimidated by the terrorists who have made killing innocent people a way to humiliate the government,” he told reporters, promising the government will “fight back”.
“I am confident we shall win this war against our enemies.”
Al-Shabab also carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013 when four gunmen killed 67 people in a four-day siege.
During Thursday’s attack, al-Shahab’s spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said the killings were in revenge for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of the African Union’s force backed the country’s internationally-backed government.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia,” Rage said.
Newspapers on Friday were critical that intelligence warnings had been missed.
“The attack was preceded by a number of intelligence alarm bells,” The Star newspaper editorial read, demanding that such warnings must be acted upon.
But newspapers also called for national unity in the wake of the killings.
“Even as we struggle to rise from the rubble of yesterday’s attack, we must once again realize what the enemy wants to trigger,” The Standard‘s editorial read.
“They want an internal war in Kenya, the kind of which will trigger destruction and blood-letting they would want to see,” it added.
POPE SLAMS ‘SENSELESS KILLINGS’
Pope Francis today condemned the massacre of 147 students in Kenya that saw Christians targeted as an act of “senseless brutality” and said he would pray for the perpetrators to change.
The pontiff’s feelings were expressed in a telegram send by his Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to Cardinal John Njue, the President of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Good Friday, the holiest day of the year in the Christian calendar.
“Deeply saddened by the immense and tragic loss of life caused by the recent attack on the Garissa University College, the Holy Father sends assurances of his prayers and spiritual closeness to the families of the victims and to all Kenyans at this painful time,” the telegram read.
“In union with all people of good will throughout the world, His Holiness condemns this act of senseless brutality and prays for a change of heart among its perpetrators.”
The day-long siege of Garissa University just before Easter was the work of Somalia’s Shebab Islamists and Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 US embassy bombings.
A Shebab spokesman has said the attack on a campus near the border with Somalia was carried out in revenge for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia.
Hurling grenades and firing automatic rifles, the gunmen stormed the university as students were sleeping, shooting dead dozens before setting Muslims free and holding Christians and others hostage.