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Security forces in Garissa, Kenya cordon off the Garissa University College campus after a pre-dawn attack on Thursday. (Photo: AP)

Many Dead, Hostages Taken as Gunmen Attack Kenyan University

Hundreds of students remain unaccounted for as security forces attempt to clear area

Nadia Prupis

Update:

At least 147 people have been confirmed dead and 79 wounded, according to the National Disaster Operation Center of Kenya. More than 500 students have been rescued and all staff has been accounted for.

Earlier:

At least 14 people were confirmed dead Thursday morning as gunmen stormed Garissa University College in Kenya, taking hostages and firing at security forces for several hours.

On a campus of 815 students, only 280 were accounted for roughly nine hours after the attack began, with scores wounded. The Kenyan Red Cross stated that 50 of the hostages had been freed, although the amount of students taken is still unknown, and the National Disaster Operation Center of Kenya said 65 people had been admitted to a hospital, most with gunshot wounds. Four were airlifted to Nairobi, the capital, for treatment.

The town of Garissa is roughly 90 miles south of the Somali border. The swarm of gunmen ambushed the campus before dawn on Thursday, with survivors reporting that they fired on students and personnel indiscriminately. The New York Times reports:

More than six hours after the violence began on Thursday, the university remained on lockdown as security forces battled the assailants while students remained trapped inside dormitories, classrooms and other buildings, witnesses and officials said.

"It is ongoing," Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenyan Red Cross, said by telephone. "There are students that are being held against their will by these terrorists in the dormitories."

While the gunmen were not immediately identified, the United States Embassy in Nairobi said the terrorist group Al Shabaab had claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage reportedly told Agence France-Presse that the group was retaliating against Kenya for being "at war with Somalia."

According to CNN, one of the gunmen was arrested as he tried to flee the scene. CNN continues:

The gunshots started going off "like fireworks" around 5 a.m., at the time of morning prayers, witness Milka Ndung'u told NTV. She and others escaped to a field, but gunshots followed them.

Augustine Alanga told CNN he woke up to the sound of gunfire and described students running around, seeking safety.

In 2013, Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing more than 60 civilians. According to the Associated Press, between 2012 and 2014 Al Shabaab killed 312 people, including 38 in Garissa alone, which is particularly vulnerable due to its proximity to Somalia.

Alinoor Moulid, a freelance journalist based in Garissa, told Al Jazeera on Thursday, "According to some of the students who escaped, there are around five gunmen and they entered the university dormitory while students were sleeping."

Moulid added, "It is hard to tell [about casualties] because the area is now cordoned off, and it is heavily guarded. At the moment, I can hear sirens, and at some point I could hear an exchange of gunfire."


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