NAIROBI — Masked al-Shabab militants stormed dormitories at a university in northeastern Kenya early Thursday, killing at least 147 people in the worst terror attack on Kenyan soil in nearly two decades, officials said.

More than 500 students were rescued after the Islamist militants, heavily armed and strapped with explosives, attacked the campus of Garissa University College around 5:30 a.m., shooting some young people and taking others hostage. At least 79 people were injured, according to Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Center.

A government spokesman said the siege had ended with four gunmen from the Somali group being killed 15 hours after it began.

“The gunmen are dead. There were four, they are all dead,” said Abdulkadir Sugow, spokesman for the Garissa governor. However, he could not confirm how they were killed. “The fire exchange has now stopped,” he said. “The next step is to reconcile, and to analyze the way forward.” Security forces have yet to enter the university compound, he said. “Nothing can be ascertained fully,” Sugow said.

Outside the university, in the city of Garissa about 90 miles from the Somali border, confusion and tension reigned. Scores of students remained unaccounted for. Many jumped through a fence to escape the campus. The gunmen had been holed up in the compound with an unconfirmed number of hostages. When they were shot by police, they exploded “like bombs,” said Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary, Joseph Nkaissery.

Ogutu Vquee, a student at the university, was sleeping in his dormitory when the gunmen arrived. He said there was indiscriminate shooting of both Muslims and non-Muslims, though there were reports that Muslims were separated from Christians who were targeted.

“When they attacked us, most of us were asleep so we were woken by the gunshots,” he said. “I am totally in fear and confusion due to the situation.”

A 19-year old student from Nairobi who asked not to be named, said that he transferred from Garissa University to Nairobi after threats of an al Shabaab attack circulated in December. “Everybody had to go home because there was a lot of tension. Shabab was saying they were going to attack the school in one week’s time, so we went home. It was rumors, but we had to vacate, everybody had to vacate.”

The massacre is the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, which killed 224. An attack on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013 left 67 dead and renewed fears that al-Shabab could wage significant operations from its strongholds in neighboring Somalia.

Al-Shabab considers Kenya a staunch enemy in part because the country sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the group. Kenyan troops remain stationed there as part of an African Union mission.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.