Gunmen raided a Kenya university before dawn Thursday, firing indiscriminately and taking hostages.
At least 30 people were hospitalized from the attack at Garissa University College, the Kenyan Red Cross said. Local media reported varying death tolls, but CNN was unable to confirm the exact count.
The Somali-based Al Shabaab militant group claimed responsibility.
By 11 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET), six hours after the attack began, the fight to regain control of the university continued. Kenyan forces cleared three of four dormitories and had cornered the militants in the last one, the interior ministry said.
The gunshots started going off "like fireworks" around 5 a.m., at the time of morning prayers, witness Milka Ndung'u told CNN affiliate NTV. She and others escaped to a field, but gunshots followed them.
Assailants forced their way onto the campus by shooting at guards at the front gates, Kenya National Police said. From there, attackers moved into a nearby girls' hostel, the Red Cross said.
The Guardian has a report that at least 15 people are dead but the number of hostages is unknown.
A mortuary attendant in Garissa said at least 15 were dead.
Witnesses said the attackers had shot indiscriminately at students and teachers who had been woken up by the mayhem. “They are just shooting randomly,” Augustine Alanga told the BBC World Service. A policewoman told Reuters the gunmen were likely to have taken hostages because many students remain trapped inside the campus. “Two guards who were manning the gate at the university have been killed,” she said. “We can hear gunshots from inside the compound but at this point we can’t tell who is shooting at who or what.”
North-east Kenya is one of the most impoverished parts of the country, where residents blame the state for years of marginalisation that has made the region an easy target for al-Shabaab operations and recruitment.
Efforts have been made to reverse the economic depredations in the area. The university, opened in 2011, is one of the key projects rolled out by the government. It has a student population of about 900, many of them from other parts of the country. The pattern in other al-Shabaab attacks in recent years has been for the militants to separate Christians from Muslims and kill them at close range.
The students above who escaped look to be Muslim, and of Somali backgound. However it is reported that the attack started with firing on the mosque during morning prayer.
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