NAIROBI, Kenya (Christian Examiner) – With nearly 150 of his citizens dead at the hands of the Islamic terror group Al-Shabaab, Kenya's president is calling on his nation's citizens to remember God's power over evil.
In a statement April 4, President Uhuru Kenyatta said Kenyans will be "filled with anguish and great anger" as the country begins the process of burying the students killed by the militants at Garissa University, but he called on the country to consider the message of the recent Easter holiday.
"The families and communities of the fallen should take solace in recalling that after the evil of the cross on Friday, and when the Devil thought he had triumphed, Sunday's hope arrived. As we remember those that fell at Garissa, we recognize that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that the power of hatred and violence will never prevail. We shall prevail," Kenyatta said.
Roughly 83 percent of Kenyans consider themselves Christian; 11 percent are Muslim.While both Christians and Muslims were among the 887 students at Garissa University, survivors of the attack say only Christians were singled out for execution.
Collins Wetangula, vice chairman of the student union, told the Associated Press he was preparing to shower when he heard gunshots from the dorm a little more than a football field away. At his own dorm, he heard terrorists opening doors and asking students if they were Christian or Muslim.
"If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die," Wetangula said. He and his three roommates remained quiet and locked in their rooms during the massacre.
The Al-Shabaab gunmen also called female students out of their dorm rooms just moments before the students were "butchered with bullets like animals," another survivor of the attack told a Kenyan newspaper.
Francis Gicobi, in his second year at the university, told Kenya's Standard he was awakened by gunfire around 5 a.m. He climbed down from the second story of his dorm to escape, but not before seeing terrorists shooting students below from the dorm's third floor. Gicobi said the girls were lured to their deaths by a lie.
"If you don't want to die, come outside. According to our religion, we do not kill girls. Walk down the stairs to the ground level or alternatively call your fathers to come and save you," Gicobi heard the terrorists shouting.
Gicobi's account parallels the account of Helen Titus, who said the terrorists were well organized and had knowledge of where the Christian students at the campus would be – in a prayer meeting.
"They investigated our area. They knew everything," Titus told The Associated Press (AP). Titus was wounded in the attack and said she smeared her friend's blood on her face to make the attackers thing she already was dead.
Fred Kaskon Musinai, whose daughter Elizabeth was among those killed, received a call from her during the attack, in which she asked her mother to pray for her, according to AP. Elizabeth told him she did not know if she would survive.
At 1 p.m. he received another call, this time from the Islamists who had seized the university in eastern Kenya, less than 100 miles from the border with Somalia. They told Musinai that he should contact the president of Kenya and tell him to remove his troops from Somalia and leave Al-Shabaab alone. Two minutes later they called back.
When Musinai told them the president had not been contacted, the terrorists executed his daughter. Musinai called his daughter's phone again, only to be told, "She is now with her God."
The death toll in the Garissa attack, the deadliest since the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998, stands at 148. As many as 30 students are reportedly still missing, according to Kenya's News24. The missing students were not among those taken to the area morgue for identification and have not contacted their families. Many fear they remain in the hands of Al-Shabaab terrorists, who have a history of abducting victims for ransom or forced servitude.
All four of the terrorists who took part in the 13-hour university siege were killed by Kenyan police and soldiers. Their bodies were displayed for locals. Among the terrorists killed was the son of a government official, Kenya's Interior Ministry said in a statement.
According to the statement, Abdirahim Abdullahi, ethnically a Somali, had been reported missing by his father a year ago. Abdullahi's father, a chief in the northern county of Mandera, reported that his son – once a prominent law student in Nairobi, had joined Al-Shabaab. Since the attack, 14 other suspects have been arrested.
Al-Shabaab has called for Kenyan troops to leave Somalia, where they have been fighting the al-Qaeda terrorist affiliate since 2011. Kenya leaders have said the presence of troops there has lessened the terrorists' ability to plan and execute attacks.
Al-Shabaab, however, has ramped up its attacks on Kenyan soil over the past two years, resulting in the deaths of more than 400 Kenyans, most of them Christian:
- On Sept. 24, 2013, Al-Shabaab terrorists attacked a shopping mall in Nairobi. Eyewitnesses said the group singled out foreigners for execution, but asked native Kenyans if they were Christian. Those who answered "yes" were among the 67 people killed.
- On July 5, 2014, Enos Nambafu Weswah, principal of the Kenya Baptist Theological College was among 28 people murdered when Al-Shabaab terrorists attacked the town of Mpeketoni, where Weswah was visiting. That attack was the second on the town. An attack in June attack claimed 60 victims.
- Also on July 7, 2014, two Christians died after the church they were hiding in was set on fire by terrorists north of Hindi on the coast. The men had been attending a Bible study.
- Al-Shabaab also abducted four men near the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, on Aug. 24, 2014. Three of the men were Muslim and released. The fourth, a Christian, was beheaded.
- On Nov. 22, 2014, terrorists killed 28 bus passengers they identified as Christians. Muslim passengers were allowed to live.
- On Dec. 2, 2014, Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked workers at a quarry near Mandera. Christians and Muslims were separated before 36 Christians were killed.
In an Easter Service April 5 at Kenya's All Saints Cathedral, Anglican Archbishop of Kenya Elius Wabukala acknowledged the likelihood of future attacks.
Wabukala urged parishioners to report suspicious activity to the police. He also called on Muslim leaders to change the trajectory of Islam in Kenya and Somalia, Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper reported.
"There is a need for religious leaders in the Muslim faith to re-examine the teachings so that they are able to help us in nurturing good young people who can respect life, people who can work together just as our faith teaches us to love one another and work together," Wabukala said.
Some moderate Muslim leaders in Kenya have condemned the attack on the students. Ibrahim Lethone, a leader of Kenya's largest mosque, told reporters in a press conference following the attack that he and other Muslims "condemn the attack in the strong terms possible."
"We know the intention of the terrorists, or whoever is behind that incident in Garissa, is to divide Kenyans along religious lines. We want to appeal to all Kenyans, all peace-loving Kenyans and other human beings also the world over, that as Kenyans, we should stand together and defeat the intention of the people who want to use terror to divide our country," Lethone said.
Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed also said the attackers were "not Islamists."
"They are just evil criminals, who need to be addressed and exposed as such," she said. "Any time we give them any iota or any shred of respectability, then we defeat our own cause. So please don't call them 'Islamists.' They are not Islamists."
According to globalsecurity.org, a group which monitors Islamic militancy, Al-Shabaab may have as many as 7,000 fighters operating on the Kenyan border, and many of the group's senior leaders trained with and fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The security watchdog also claimed Al-Shabaab may be entertaining overtures to join the Islamic State or ISIS.