The Kenyan interior ministry said on Sunday that one of the Garissa attack gunmen was the son of a Kenyan government official. The news was announced as Easter services dedicated to the 148 victims of Thursday’s terrorist attack on Garissa University College were held nation-wide, ushering in three official days of national mourning. Churches across the country hired armed guards to protect their congregations, fearful of more attacks after a massacre that specifically targeted Christians.
On Thursday, four masked gunmen stormed the university campus in the eastern town of Garissa, close to the border with Somalia. In the initial shooting rampage, many students were killed almost instantly, but the militants went on to instigate a day-long hostage situation — making clear that they were targeting non-Muslim students. Somali-based extremist group al Shabab quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the massacre was revenge for Kenya having sent troops into Somalia to assist African Union peacekeepers against the al Qaeda-affiliate.
Al Shabab is mostly active in Somalia — according to the Council on Foreign Relations they hope to transform the poverty-stricken country into an Islamic state — but has previously carried out attacks in both Kenya and Uganda. In a statement released Saturday, the group promised more attacks in the future, warning Kenyans that their cities would “run red with blood,” according to Al Jazeera.
Hence, Sunday’s Easter services took place in an atmosphere not just of sorrow but of fear. According to Kenyan newspaper The Star, Kenya’s Christians make up 83 percent of the population. That’s some 36.5 million people — now traumatized by stories of the militants’ brutal and unflinching treatment of Garissa's mostly Christian students. Willybard Lagho, a Mombasa-based Catholic priest, told Reuters:
We are very concerned about the security of our churches and worshippers, especially this Easter period, and also because it is clear that these attackers are targeting Christians.
Lagho said that many churches in Mombasa would be hiring armed policemen and private security personnel for Easter mass. In Nairobi, at the Holy Family Basilica cathedral, private security guards frisked churchgoers as they entered. In Garissa, six armed soldiers guarded the main Christian church in the lead-up to mass. Churchgoer Meli Muasya told The Guardian , “Nowhere is safe, but here at church you can be with God and console yourself.”
The Garissa attack was the deadliest on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi; carried out by al Qaeda, that strike killed over 200 people and wounded many more. In the light of al Shabab's threats, Kenyan police have said they are also ramping up security at shopping malls and public buildings in Nairobi and in the eastern coastal region.
Late on Saturday, 613 students and 50 staff from the university arrived by bus in Nairobi, where relatives greeted them. Parents of the missing were at Nairobi’s mortuary, trying to identify their loved ones. On Sunday, families and friends of the victims amassed at Nyayo National Stadium to provide details of the dead and missing. Legislator Chris Wamalwa, who was visiting families at the stadium, said: “We'll not (stand for) continuing losing our children in cold blood because the government has failed to protect them.”
Authorities are rushing to acquit themselves well in the aftermath of Thursday’s attack. On Friday, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said that Kenyan police had arrested five suspects in connection with the attacks. They had also posted a “most wanted” notice for one Mohamed Mohamud (also known by the alias Mohamed Kuno) in connection to the Garissa attack. A reward of around $215,000 was offered, although specifics of the man’s involvement were not given. Update: An interior ministry tweet Sunday names Mohamud as the attack's mastermind.
Garissa University has been closed indefinitely, while a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed on the surrounding region.
Hours after al Shabab issued its warning of further blood-shed, police in Garissa piled the corpses of the four gunmen into a pick-up truck and paraded them through the town. The macabre display was ostensibly to see if anyone could identity the attackers, but an Al Jazeera correspondent suggests that it could equally have been the easiest way to prove that the gunmen were dead — and inject the terrified crowd with confidence in the security forces.
The investigation into the al Shabab attack took a slightly surprising turn Sunday, when the interior ministry claimed to have identified one of the four gunmen. Spokesman Mwenda Njoka named the gunman as Abdirahim Abdullahi, the son of a Kenyan government official. Abdullahi had been missing for some time. Njoka told Reuters:
The father had reported to security agents that his son had disappeared from home … and was helping the police try to trace his son by the time the Garissa terror attack happened.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, swiftly denounced the attack and has been quick to promise a crackdown on terrorism. On Saturday he warned that militants would face harsh measures, saying, “We will fight terrorism to the end… I guarantee that my administration shall respond in the fiercest way possible.”
But the country’s security forces have faced criticism over their response. French news agency AFP reported that it took special forces several hours to arrive at the Garissa campus. They flew in from Nairobi, and only arrived after other security personnel had been battling the militants for hours. Many of the country’s newspapers published unfavorable articles Sunday. "This is negligence on a scale that borders on the criminal," a Nation editorial read, "... the gunmen, who killed scores of students with obvious relish, took their time."
Garissa resident Kabange Kimani told Al Jazeera that previous promises of increased security have not been upheld. Kimani said:
An attack happens, we are reassured of security. Security will be beefed up. Some high-profile figures will come from Nairobi. They land here for a few hours and go back, only for this thing to happen a few days later.
Nathif Adam, a governor of Garissa county — where, in 2012, masked gunmen killed over a dozen people in an attack on two churches — said the government was getting a bad rap. “I can confidently say that the Kenya security team and officials are doing their best possible,” he said. “The only unfortunate thing is that here you're fighting guerrilla type terrorism which can attack anytime, anywhere.”
Kenyatta has declared three days of official mourning for the attack, starting Sunday.
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