Kenya mourns Garissa victims with Easter prayers

2015-04-05 08:14
Students who escaped the attack. (AP)

Students who escaped the attack. (AP)

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Nairobi - Kenyans prepared to dedicate Easter Sunday prayer services to the 148 victims of a university massacre by Somalia's al-Shabaab Islamists, marking the first of three days of national mourning.

Easter ceremonies across the country were due to be held in the memory of the students and security personnel killed in a country where 80% of the population is Christian, with flags flying at half-mast in a show of respect.

Islamist militants lined up non-Muslim students during the massacre on Thursday, taunting them and then executing them in al-Shabaab's bloodiest attack to date, with President Uhuru Kenyatta warning they would face justice for the "mindless slaughter" and vowed to retaliate in the "severest way" to the killings.

The siege in the north-eastern town of Garissa, close to the border with Somalia, claimed the lives of 142 students, three police officers and three soldiers.

National mourning

The massacre was Kenya's deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning beginning on Sunday, calling for the killings to unite and not divide the country.

Earlier on Saturday, the al-Shabaab warned of a "long, gruesome war" unless Kenya withdrew its troops from Somalia, and threatened "another bloodbath".

Hours after al-Shabaab's warning, police in Garissa paraded four corpses of the gunmen piled on top of each other face down in the back of a pickup truck followed by a huge crowd.

Police insisted the grim display was to see if anyone could identify the assailants, but some onlookers threw stones at the bodies as they passed, while others jeered and shouted at the dead.

In Nairobi's ethnic Somali district demonstrators took to the streets protesting against the al-Shabaab, calling for unity in the country.

Five men have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Two days inside wardrobe

Forensic investigators continued to scour the site where one student shocked security forces - who had said all students were accounted for - by emerging unharmed from a wardrobe where she had hidden for over two days.

A Kenya Red Cross spokesperson said that the 19-year old was traumatised and dehydrated, but physically unharmed and undergoing assessment by doctors.

Over 600 students from the now closed college on Saturday boarded buses for their hometowns around the country.

Interior ministry spokesperson Mwenda Njoka said five arrests had already been made, including three "co-ordinators" captured as they fled towards Somalia, and two others in the university.

The names of the three suspected organisers were not given, but Njoka said the two arrested on campus included a security guard at the university, and a Tanzanian named as Rashid Charles Mberesero, found "hiding in the ceiling" and holding grenades.

A $215 000 bounty has also been offered for alleged al-Shabaab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher said to be the mastermind behind the Garissa attack.

Kenyatta said it was clear terrorist masterminds were operating inside Kenya and not just Somalia.

"The planners and financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities," he said, warning that "radicalisation is happening openly" in Islamic schools by "rogue" preachers.

Read more on:    al-shabaab  |  kenya  |  east africa  |  garissa attack

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