AT least 147 people have been killed by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab at a Kenya university they raided this morning, the country’s security minister has said in the latest update.
Kenyan security officials also said four terrorists had been killed.
Another 79 have been injured, and over 500 students rescued from the Garissa University College campus.
Earlier Thursday, the militants said their gunmen were holding Christian hostages after attacking the northeastern university near the Somalia border at dawn on Thursday, in an ongoing assault in revenge for Nairobi’s troops fighting in Somalia.
The gunmen divided students at the Garissa University between Muslims and non-Muslims, letting the Muslim students go, insurgent spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told AFP by telephone.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia.. our people are still there, they are fighting and their mission is to kill those who are against the Shabaab,” Rage said.
“When our men arrived, they released some of people, the Muslims, and it is they that alerted the government.. we are holding the others hostage,” he said, adding those seized were Christians, but not saying how many there were.
He did not give details on the number of casualties but said “there are very many.” The Kenya Red Cross which is leading the medical response to the attack said there were “an unknown number of student hostages” although “50 students have been safely freed”.
At midday, Kenyan troops had surrounded the campus, with the interior ministry saying that the “attackers have been cornered in one hostel.”
The death toll has now risen to 15, and Kenya Red Cross officials said at least 65 people, were injured by the attackers and have been rushed to hospital.
“Gunmen forced their way into Garissa University by shooting at the guards manning the main gate at around 5:30 am,” said Kenya Police Chief Joseph Boinet.
“The gunmen shot indiscriminately while inside the university compound,” he said.
Fighting continued with the gunmen reported to have holed up inside a building in the campus, where there are both teaching areas as well as residential blocks. They are suspected to be holding hostages.
The university has several hundred students from different parts of Kenya. The number of teachers and students trapped inside the campus was unclear as gunfire and explosions were heard coming from the site.
“Police… engaged the gunmen in a fierce shootout, however the attackers retreated and gained entry into one of the hostels,” Boinet said, adding that reinforcements had arrived and were “flushing out the gunmen”.
At least two people have been killed and four injured in the attack, according to Kenya’s official National Disaster Operations Centre.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the town lies roughly 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of Somalia and has in the past been targeted by militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab.
A witness, Ahmed Nur, said he saw the bodies of two university guards, shot by the attackers. Kenya’s Red Cross is evacuating the wounded.
Kenya Red Cross, quoting local health officials, said that 30 people had been taken to hospital, “the majority” with gunshot wounds. At least four were reported to be in a serious condition.
Kenya has been hit by a wave of grenade and gun attacks, often blamed on sympathisers of Somalia’s Shabaab Islamist fighters and sometimes aimed at police targets, since the army crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to attack Islamist bases.
A series of foreign travel warnings in response to the terror threat have crippled Kenya’s economically important tourism industry. On Wednesday, just hours before the attack in Garissa began, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenya “is safe as any country in the world”.
Kenya’s government has been under pressure since the September 2013 Shabaab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed in a siege involving just four gunmen and which lasted four days.
In June and July last year Shabaab gunmen killed close to 100 people in a series of attacks on the town of Mpeketoni and nearby villages.
In November Shabaab claimed responsibility for holding up a bus outside Mandera town, separating passengers according to religion and executing 28 non-Muslims. Ten days later 36 non-Muslim quarry workers were also massacred in the area.
Students in Garissa on Thursday reported seeing up to four masked gunmen entering the university compound before dawn.
The area surrounding the university has been sealed off by the Kenya security forces and the army has been called in.