As militants rampaged through a university in Kenya on Thursday, students cowering in their dorms heard the attackers opening doors and asking if the people who had hidden inside were Muslims or Christians.
“If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot,” said one survivor, Collins Wetangula. “With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die.”
Al-Shabab gunmen killed 147 people in the group’s deadliest attack in Kenya. Four militants were slain by security forces to end the siege just after dusk.
Amid the massacre at Garissa University College, the militants took dozens of hostages in a dormitory as they battled troops and police before the operation ended after about 13 hours.
An al-Shabab spokesman said fighters from the Somalia-based extremist group were responsible. The al-Qaida-linked group has been blamed for a series of attacks in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, as well as other violence in the north. The group has vowed to retaliate against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants staging cross-border attacks.
At least 79 people were wounded at the campus 90 miles from the Somali border. One suspected extremist was arrested as he tried to flee.
One of the survivors of Thursday’s attack, Wetangula, was preparing to take a shower when he heard gunshots coming from Tana dorm, which hosts both men and women. The campus has six dorms and at least 887 students, he said. He and his roommates locked themselves in their room.
“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots. Nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” he said.
He added: “The gunmen were saying, ‘Sisi ni al-Shabab’ ” — Swahili for “We are al-Shabab.”
The attack began about 5:30 a.m., as morning prayers were underway at the university mosque, where worshippers were not attacked, said Augustine Alanga, a 21-year-old student.
As terrified students streamed out of buildings, arriving police officers took cover. Kenya’s National Police Service said a “fierce shootout” ensued.
Wetangula, who was rescued by troops, said one soldier instructed a group of students to run and to dive for cover at their command as they ran to safety.
“We started running and bullets were whizzing past our heads, and the soldiers told us to dive,” Wetangula said.