In Kenya, a quest for answers in wake of Al Shabab university attack

The attack on Garissa University College was the deadliest yet by the militant Islamist group, which is based across the border in Somalia.

Ben Curtis/AP
In Garissa, Kenya, Muslims demonstrated Friday against the previous day's attack on Garissa University College, expressing solidarity with non-Muslims who were targeted.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

As Kenyans woke up to the Good Friday Easter holiday, they were searching for meaning in the aftermath of the deadliest attack yet by the militant Islamist group Al Shabab. 

Four gunmen from the Somali-based group opened fire early Thursday morning at Garissa University College, laying siege to the institution for almost 15 hours before they were killed. The death toll so far stands at 147, but as emergency workers continue to collect bodies, the number is expected to increase. At least 79 were wounded. 

Friday morning, buses filled with shocked students and staff began to leave Garissa, which sits on Kenya’s eastern flank, 125 miles from the Somali border. 

"I can't come back here again. It is like risking my life to secure my future. I can't do that," Pallete Okombo, a second-year student, told local papers.

Most shops, banks, supermarkets, eateries, and other public places reopened Friday. The Garissa Catholic church remained closed on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar as religious leaders nationwide wondered how they will move past what appears to be religiously motivated killings. The town is under a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

Attention now turns to Nairobi, where government officials insist they did not know about a potential attack despite warnings from the United Kingdom and Australia earlier that week and indications that universities had been warned.

“This incident, which happened today, is one of those incidents which can surprise any country,” Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said on Thursday in a briefing from Garissa.

Grace Kai, a student at the nearby Garissa Teachers Training College, told Reuters that there had been warnings an attack in Garissa could be imminent, and strangers were seen roaming the town.

The government released a statement naming Mohamed Kuno, a former madrassa (Islamic school) teacher from Garissa, as the mastermind behind the attack and offered a $220,000 bounty, the Associated Press reports.  He also was responsible for the killing of 58 Kenyans in the far northeastern town of Mandera last year.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, under fire for comments he made the day before the attack saying that “Kenya is safe,” has activated 10,000 police recruits to be trained. In a television address on Thursday, he blamed the insecurity in the country on a shortage of police officers.

US President Barack Obama, who recently announced a summer visit to Kenya, denounced the attacks. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the US is providing assistance to the Kenyan government and will continue their partnership to defeat Al Shabab. Somali President Hassan Sheikh also offered his condolences, and said Somalia and Kenya must boost security cooperation.

Al Shabab has vowed to continue attacking Kenya as long as its Army remains fighting in Somalia.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.