06 April 2015
Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked a college in Garissa, north-eastern Kenya on Thursday, killing 148 people. The attackers separated Christian students from Muslim ones and massacred the Christians. The victims are mainly students between the ages of 19 and 23.
"The attackers were just in the next room," said Susan Kitoko, a student. "I heard them ask people whether they were Christian or Muslim, then I heard gunshots and screams." Susan broke her hip in her escape, when she jumped out of the first floor window of her dorm.
Reuben Mwavita, 21, a student, said he saw three female students kneeling and begging the gunmen for mercy.
"The mistake they made was to say 'Jesus, please save us'," he said, "That is when they were immediately shot."
The four gunmen were eventually cornered by Kenyan security forces after a day-long siege. All members of the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab, they reportedly killed themselves by detonating suicide vests. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the bloodbath, saying it was retribution for Kenya's sending of troops to Somalia to fight the extremists.
CHRISTIANS 'SHOT ON THE SPOT'
One of the survivors, Collins Wetangula, told The Associated Press that the gunmen went through the college shouting, "Sisi ni al-Shabab," - Swahili for "We are al-Shabaab." He heard the attackers arrive at his dormitory, open the doors and ask if the people who had hidden inside were Muslims or Christians.
"If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot," he said. "With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die."
Cynthia Cheroitich, 19, hid in a wardrobe and covered herself with clothes. "I was just praying to my God," she said.
A student said she initially mistook the armed men for police. "All of a sudden I saw them throw explosives... where the Christian Union members were praying," she said. Twenty two students attending morning devotion were killed after grenades were lobbed into their makeshift chapel.
The attack was clearly timed to coincide with the Easter - the most important festival of the Christian year. At churches throughout Kenya the Easter prayers began a thre-day period of mourning for those slaughtered.
"It is very sad that this attack is happening during the Easter festivities," said Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Alessandro, who is based in the town of Garissa, where the attack occurred.
"Most of the students in the college are not from here, they are not Somali, and they are not Muslims," he added.
A student who had returned home from Garissa for the Easter break told the BBC that many of those at the college were Christians from western Kenya. Kenya operates a swap scheme for tertiary level education, which means that students must study in a different region from where they went to senior school.
More than 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian. But in north-eastern Kenya, nearly 90 percent are Muslim.
Source: BBC; Guardian; Associated Press, World Watch Monitor