Four gunmen stormed the Garissa University College campus in Kenya on April 2, 2015, killing 147 people — mostly students — and wounding thousands. Kenyans are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy. While many have been critical of the authorities’ response, attention has increased on Al-Shabaab, the group claiming responsibility for the attack. Here are 12 things you should know about response to the Garissa attack.
Sources: Edition.CNN.co, IBTimes.co.uk, ABC.net
The attack, carried out by four Al-Shabaab gunmen at the university in Garissa resulted in 147 dead and countless others wounded. It is the deadliest single attack on Kenyan soil since al Qaeda claimed responsibility for bombing the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing 200 and wounding thousands.
In 2011, Kenya sent troops to help combat Al-Shabaab activities in Somalia. Since then, the terrorist group has scaled up operations in Kenya in retaliation. The 2013 Westgate Mall attack left 67 people dead in Nairobi. Al-Shabaab militants have killed more than 400 people in Kenya since April 2013.
As is the case with many mass atrocities, news stories have a tendency to reduce the tragedy to numbers and figures. The #147notjustanumber campaign was launched to remind people on social media that those lost in the attack were not just meaningless numbers, but aspiring lawyers, doctors and teachers.
Despite earlier intelligence that the university in Garissa could be attacked by Al-Shabaab, Kenya’s rapid response team was delayed in Nairobi for hours awaiting transport even after the massacre was underway. This elite team arrived even after some journalists and politicians based in the area were already at the site.
Though the siege did not end until after the elite response team arrived, work had already begun by local military garrisons in Garissa to combat the terrorists. In the end, 663 students of the 800 who had been taken hostage by the terrorists were rescued by authorities.
Though military sources have claimed that the air strikes were not in retribution for the university attack, Kenya targeted Al-Shabaab training camps in Somalia the week following the massacre. The military maintains that strikes are a part of the ongoing operations against Al-Shabaab that began in 2011.
Beginning on April 5, 2015, Kenya’s airstrikes began targeting Al-Shabaab strongholds in Gondodowe and Ismail, located between Bardera and the Somalia-Kenya border. Two of the strikes hit the group’s training camps, approximately 125 miles from the Kenyan border. Col. David Obonyo, a spokesman for the Kenyan military, said both camps were completely destroyed in the strikes, but they were unsure how many people were killed. Bad weather obscured the view. Five men were arrested in connection with the attack including three alleged coordinators, captured en route to Somalia and two at the university. A security guard and a Tanzanian citizen were found hiding in the ceiling, armed with grenades.
Mohamed Mohamud, a senior leader of Al-Shabaab operations in Kenya, has been singled out as the mastermind of the attack. Kenyan authorities offered a reward of 20 million Kenyan shillings ($215,000 USD) for information on Mohamud and other Al-Shabaab operatives, and issued a “most wanted” notice. Mohamud is also known by the aliases Dulyadin and Gamadhere.
The world’s largest refugee camp and home to thousands, Dadaab is located in Kenya’s North Eastern Province near Somalia. It is considered to be within striking distance of Mohamud’s stronghold in Somalia’s Middle Juba province region, causing widespread fear among citizens and authorities that the camp might be the target of a future Al-Shabaab attack. The terrorist group has promised “another bloodbath” in Kenya in the near future.
Following the attack, Kenyatta said the planners and financiers of the attack were deeply embedded in Kenyan society. He urged the country’s Muslim community to actively root out radicalization and work with authorities.
In the wake of the attack, Ugandan authorities have stepped up police patrols around college campuses in the country. Fred Enanga, spokesman for the Ugandan police, said a suspect had been detained in Kampala taking pictures of a student hostel at Makerere University, but it was unclear if he was linked to Al-Shabaab. Uganda contributed to African Union peacekeepers in Somalia to combat terrorism.
In light of Al-Shabaab’s violent retaliation against Kenyan troops in Somalia, the Garissa attack prompted some Kenyan officials to call for troops to pull out of African Union peacekeeping missions in Somalia. President Kenyatta, however, said the country will keep its commitment to routing out militants in neighboring Somalia, and promised to “respond in the fiercest way possible.”