Students trickle back to Kenya university nine months after massacre

Students trickled back on Monday for classes at a university in northeastern Kenya where at least 148 people were killed by Islamist gunmen nine months ago.

Security was tight but only around 20 students resumed classes at Garissa university, which had about 800 students before the massacre.

The high-profile assault on April 2, 2015 was the deadliest yet in Kenya by the Somali-led, Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab group. Nearly all the victims were students.

Emotions were mixed for those returning.

“I am very happy for the reopening… we went for our first lesson and we are really back to the university as normal,” said Shamza Abdi, a student.

“There are some memories of a lot of our friends we lost here, but despite what happened, life must go on… we just pray for our friends,” she added.

The gunmen had lined up non-Muslim students for execution in what President Uhuru Kenyatta described at the time as a “barbaric medieval slaughter”.

The massacre was Kenya’s deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi.

Most students, especially those who were not originally from Garissa, have transferred to other colleges. The students now returning are mainly those who come from the town, some 365 kilometres (225 miles) north of the capital Nairobi.

– Security tightened –

“We are really missing those students who were killed, and we are very bitter about it…the people of this area were really affected,” said Hassan Kune Mire.

“It is very important for us that learning has resumed, and that we shall continue with our education.”

University principal Ahmed Osman Warfa, speaking last week when teachers returned, said security had been tightened with a new police post built within the compound and a perimeter fence planned.

“I wish I was armed and trained on the use of firearms on that night, I would have fought with the attackers and at least ensure I have saved some of my students from their killers,” the principal said.

Witnesses last week gave evidence in the ongoing trial of five men accused of supporting the attack.

The four gunmen who carried out the massacre were all killed when Kenyan commandos stormed the building.

Survivors described how the laughing gunmen taunted their victims amid scenes of total carnage.

Students, some who had to play dead among the pools of blood of their friends until they were rescued, said the gunmen shouted “We have come to kill and be killed” as they prowled the student dormitories shooting those they found.

The Garissa attack followed the 2013 seige of the upmarket Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, when four Shebab gunmen killed at least 67 people.

Last month Kenyan police warned of the risk of fresh attacks by Shebab insurgents, claiming they had split into rival factions inside Kenya, with some shifting allegiance from Al-Qaeda to Islamic State.

The militants say their attacks are retaliation for the Kenyan military presence in Somalia and “war crimes” committed by Kenyan troops.

Inside Somalia, they fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, which is protected by 22,000 African Union troops, including Kenyan soldiers.

Photo Credits : AFP

Kenya’s Westgate mall, scene of Islamist massacre, ready to reopen

Owners of Kenya’s Westgate mall, closed after Somali Islamists massacred 67 people almost two years ago, vowed Tuesday it would be safe as journalists toured the mall ahead of its reopening.

The mall was badly damaged in the four-day seige in September 2013, when four gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab walked into the upmarket mall, tossing grenades and killing shoppers and staff.

On Tuesday, painters were putting finishing touches to the inside of the mall, which is to set to reopen on Saturday.

In the mall’s main hall, where shoppers once played dead as gunmen stalked the corridors killing those they found, the stores appeared back to normal, missing only the shoppers that owners hope will return.

“Exactly 22 months ago we had one of the saddest days in Kenyan history,” Nairobi governor Evans Kidero told reporters outside the building, once one of the Kenyan capital’s most prestigious shopping locations.

“As a nation we cried, we mourned but… Westgate is back.”

The rear of the mall, once a multi-story carpark with a flat rooftop where gunmen shot shoppers at a children’s cooking competition, collapsed following a fierce blaze started by the fighting. That section was not open Tuesday.

Atul Shah, who heads the main regional supermarket chain Nakumatt — whose store in the mall was where many of the victims were hunted down in aisles and killed — said they were ready to reopen.

“Nakumatt is back, and so are the other tenants who were here previously — and a few new ones,” Shah told journalists who visited the mall Tuesday, promising the “majority” will open business on Saturday.

Mall shareholder Alex Trachtenberg promised security measures had been put in place.

“We have complied with the international anti-terrorism unit who have recommended what to do and what to enhance, so we are working together closely with them,” Trachtenberg said.

Since Westgate, the Shebab have continued to launch attacks in Kenya. In April, the militants massacred 148 people in Kenya’s northeastern Garissa University.

This month, attacks includes a roadside bomb on Monday in the eastern coastal Lamu region, which killed five civilians on a police truck, as well as a night raid on quarry workers, killing at least 14.

The threat remains. The United States warned its citizens in Kenya on Monday of the risk of terrorist attacks ahead of visit by President Barack Obama, singling out a conference that Obama is due to address.

The US president is scheduled to give a speech to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, which opens on July 24.

“As with all large public events, there is the opportunity for criminal elements to target participants and other visitors,” the US State Department said.

“Large-scale public events such as this summit can also be a target for terrorists. US citizens should maintain a high level of security awareness.”

Photo Credits : AFP