Survivors recount horror of Kenya attack

'If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot,' said one survivor. 'With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die.'

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NAIROBI // Survivors of Thursday’s Al Shabab attack on a Kenyan university described a harrowing scene in which people were mercilessly gunned down and bullets whistled through the air as they ran for their lives.

Collins Wetangula said he was preparing to take a shower at Garissa University College when he heard gunshots coming from Tana dormitory, which hosts both men and women, 150 metres away. The sprawling university campus has six dormitories and at least 887 students, he said.

Mr Wetangul, who is vice chairman of the university’s student union, said that when he heard the gunshots, he locked himself and three roommates in their room.

“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots. Nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” he said.

“The gunmen were saying, ‘Sisi ni Al Shabab’ (We are Al Shabab).”

Mr Wetangul heard the attackers arrive at his dormitory, open the doors and ask if the people hidden inside were Muslims or Christians.

“If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot,” he said. “With each blast of the gun, I thought I was going to die.”

The gunmen then started shooting rapidly, as if exchanging fire, Mr Wetangula said.

“The next thing, we saw people in military uniform through the window of the back of our rooms who identified themselves as the Kenyan military,” he said. The soldiers took him and around 20 others to safety.

The attack began at about 5.30am local time, as morning prayers were underway at the university mosque, said Augustine Alanga, a 21-year-old student. Worshippers were not attacked.

At least five heavily armed, masked gunmen opened fire outside his dormitory, he said, setting off panic.

The shooting kept some students indoors but scores of others fled through barbed-wire fencing around the campus, with the gunmen firing at them.

“I am just now recovering from the pain as I injured myself while trying to escape,” Mr Alanga said. “I was running barefoot.”

Another student, Katherine, said that when she first heard the explosion and gunfire, “we thought that it was power problems”.

But the horror of being caught up in the latest attack by the Somalian militants soon dawned on her.

“We started running away,” she said, describing how she and other students fled to nearby fields where they hid as the gunfire continued.

Michael Bwana, a 20-year-old student, said he and other survivors had tried to call their friends who were trapped in a dormitory, but their phones were switched off.

“Most of the people still inside there are girls,” Mr Bwana said, referring to the dormitory where gunmen were believed to be holding an unknown number of captives.

Meanwhile, Mr Wetangula, who was rescued by the military, said one soldier instructed his group of students to run and to dive for cover as they ran to safety.

“We started running and bullets were whizzing past our heads, and the soldiers told us to dive,” Mr Wetangula said. The soldier later told the students that Al Shabab snipers were perched on a three-story dormitory called the Elgon.

Students said notices had been posted around the campus earlier that week, warning that an attack was possible.

“There were reports of an attack the whole week and even the university administration was informed,” said Nicholas Mutuku.

“But it is like everyone didn’t take it seriously, because it was not the first time such reports [have emerged].”

Some who saw the warning notices on Wednesday thought they were an April Fool’s prank.

“Yesterday there were those notices, but as it was April 1, we just thought that it was fooling,” said Katherine.

* Associated Press