The Kenyan Interior Ministry says that as many as 70 people were killed when Al-Shabaab Islamist militants attacked a university in the east of the country on Thursday.
Police sources told the media that security forces killed four of the militants in a fierce gun battle that lasted several hours, and rescued some 500 students who had been held hostage in the university dormitories.
Early police reports said that five masked gunmen at dawn stormed Garissa University near the Somali border in eastern Kenya and began “firing indiscriminately”.
They later took hostages. Survivors and those who managed to escape said the militants first divided hostages into Christian and Muslim – a tactic used in previous militant terrorist attacks.
The Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Kenyan government says a senior member by the name of Mohamed Kuno ordered the attack.
Kuno was principal of an Islamic school in Garissa until 2007.
Al-Shabaab has vowed to mount punitive attacks in Kenya as long as Nairobi maintains a military presence in Somalia in cooperation with the army there, and as part of an African Union contingent.
In early December, the extremist Al-Shabaab group based in Somalia crossed the border into a remote region in Kenya and executed at least 36 quarry workers.
The Muslims were asked to prove their faith by reciting the shahadah – or declaration of Islamic faith, survivors told the Red Cross.
Those who could not recite it were lined up with Christians and then executed by gunfire or beheaded.
In mid-November, Al-Shabaab killed 28 people who were on a bus travelling from Mandera, a small town located along the border between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
In July, Al-Shabaab fighters carried out an attack near the Kenyan town of Mpeketoni and killed up to 20 people. A day earlier, the extremist group killed at least 48 people at a holiday resort in the same region.
As in the quarry attack, police reports indicated that the armed men killed people who could not correctly answer questions about Islam – a deadly game played with seized civilians that is reminiscent of the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, which left at least 67 people dead in September 2013.