Shabaab terrorists attacked the Garissa University College in Kenya earlier today. Initial reports say that approximately 10 gunmen were involved in assault, which left at least 147 people dead and dozens more wounded.
Some members of the Shabaab assault team were killed by security forces, but others took a number of students hostage after the initial attack.
A spokesman for Shabaab, al Qaeda’s official branch in Somalia, said the gunmen deliberately separated Muslims from non-Muslims during the attack. “We sorted people out and released the Muslims,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters.
NPR reports that the terrorists entered a dormitory and were heard asking students whether or not they could recite the Muslim Shahada, or prayer. Those who could were spared, while those who could not were either killed or held as hostages. In the chaos of the attack, other witnesses say the gunmen fired sporadically on teachers and students.
This process is similar to what reportedly happened during Shabaab’s September 2013 siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The Associated Press (AP), citing other published reports, noted that witnesses said “the gunmen rounded up people, asked questions about Islam that a Muslim would know and told the Muslims to leave the mall.”
A Shabaab official reportedly emailed the AP an explanation of the Westgate Mall attack: “The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar (disbelievers) before carrying out their attack.” The same Shabaab source reportedly said that any foreigner was a “legitimate target.”
In February, Shabaab released a video commemorating the Westgate Mall attack. The video was spliced together with quotes from al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. According to a translation of the video by the SITE Intelligence Group, the Shabaab narrator claimed that “after the initial phase of the attacks, the mujahideen carried out a vetting process in which non-Muslims were separated from the Muslims.”
“This was done in order to safeguard the inviolable blood of the Muslims,” the narrator continued, adding that “the mujahideen maintained the moral high ground” and did not “deliberately” target women and children, who were were “allowed to safely evacuate the mall.”
In reality, such attacks are never as smoothly planned as Shabaab claimed. But that is the narrative the group is using to justify some of its high-profile attacks.
The Kenyan government quickly fingered a Shabaab official named Mohamed Mohamud, also known as “Dulyadin” and “Gamadhere,” as the mastermind for today’s attack. The Kenyan Interior Ministry posted a wanted poster for Mohamud on its official Twitter feed, asking witnesses to contact officials with any information that could lead to Mohamud’s arrest. Kenyan authorities had previously linked Mohamud to other attacks in their country.
Late last month, a Shabaab suicide assault team stormed a hotel in Mogadishu. Despite setbacks to African forces, and some successful counterterrorism strikes by the US, the group remains a lethal insurgency and terrorist organization.