Massacre at Garissa University University analysis: ‘The Youth’ aren’t alright

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The violence began around 5:30 in the morning, when al-Shabaab attackers numbering anywhere from five to ten in number killed two guards at the front gate. The attackers then initiated an all-out assault after destroying the main gate of Garissa University College (GUC) with grenades.

The university, located in the town of Garissa, is just 90 miles from the Kenyan border, a distance many assumed would help protect the university from the chaos and religious extremism of neighboring Somalia.

What followed was the worst massacre in Kenya since the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi that killed 213 people. In total, 148 were dead after the attack, 142 of whom were students. Three more were soldiers and three were police officers.

Another 587 students escaped, with 79 other students wounded in the assault. Kenyan Defense Forces claim they have accounted for all the students from the university after the attack.

During the assault, the attackers moved methodically through each structure, separating Christian students from Muslim students and killing any Christian students while allowing Muslim students to go free. According to one of the survivors, the first location the al-Shabaab gunmen focused on was the lecture hall where Christian students were in early morning prayer.

Many of the students died when the attackers assaulted them while they were sitting in class, while others, after the attackers promised mercy to extract them from their hiding places, died upon coming in view of the attackers.

The brutality and cruelty of the attackers remains shocking even to the soldiers of Kenya, who in the last decade have borne witness to increasingly deadlier and gruesome attacks. Attacks such as the last time al-Shabaab appeared in Kenya, at the the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013, when four al-Shabaab members killed at least 67 people in a siege lasting four days.

However, the continuing call for unity in Kenya in a country consisting of 45 million people, of which 11 percent are Muslim and more than 80 percent are Christian, brings truth to the lie perpetuated by al-Shabaab that Kenyan Muslims wanted these attacks to happen.

“It was a terror attack, and not a religious war,” said Kenyan lawmaker Raila Odinga. “We must deal with it appropriately now, in a way that does not invite a reply.”

In a show of solidarity with their Christian neighbors, the Kenyan Muslim community in the Nairobi area took to the streets in protest against terrorism in their name. “We want to condemn the attack and urge the government to take security seriously and take actions against terrorist suspects,” said Ishmael Abdul. “We’ll not sit and see terrorists divide this country.”

A Muslim student at UIS also stated that Kenyans Muslims are not alone in condemning the attacks. They feel that many of these terrorists are unfortunately considered representative of Muslims worldwide, and that they feel many of these terrorists are perverting Islam and manipulating it to fit their agendas, thereby harming Muslims everywhere with their actions.

According to Kenyan and U.S. authorities, al-Shabaab began affiliating with al-Qaeda as early as 2009, but recovered internal documents from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan revealed that even they had reservations about the al-Shabaab’s vicious tactics, including their haphazard killing of fellow Muslims.

However, since becoming an official offshoot of al-Qaeda, the group claims that it tries to minimize Muslim casualties, even though Muslims continue to be victims in many of its maneuvers.

Similar to the attack at Garissa, for the duration of the shopping mall attack, gunmen separated Muslim from non-Muslim civilians by asking religious trivia questions, executing the “nonbelievers” who failed to reply correctly.

In justification of its tactics, al-Shabaab issued literature stating, “All Muslims must stay far away from the enemy and their installations so as not to become human shields for them,” and that there was “no excuse for those who live or mingle with the enemies.”

Al-Shabaab denotes itself as the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, or “Movement of Striving Youth,” while “al-Shabaab” simply means “The Youth” in Arabic. The origins of their message, according to officials from the Kenyan government, remains housed in the massive Somalian refugee camp located in central Kenya, where al-Shabaab finds eager participants in the ranks of the young, many of whom are tired from being disempowered refugees.

Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, was established over two decades ago when thousands began fleeing the civil war in neighboring Somalia. The camp has long been a source of controversy, with allegations that it is a front for the smuggling of illegal merchandise and weapons from Somalia.

The Kenyan government says Mohamed Mohamud is the mastermind of Thursday’s Kenya university terror attack, and the U.S. embassy in Nairobi stated that Mohamud is the regional head for al-Shabaab.

Mohamud’s network extends within the Dadaab refugee camp, allowing his group extensive cover and protection for al-Shabaab’s terrorist activities.

Five al-Shabaab soldiers remain in custody, in addition to the the four gunmen killed at GUC at the end of the day-long siege. According to the authorities, they apprehended three of the suspects while they were trying to flee the country, and said the other two were located on campus, and included a security guard at the university and a Tanzanian citizen found hiding.

The Tanzanian man, Rashid Charles Mberesero, was hiding in the ceiling of the university and had grenades in his possession when found by authorities. The second was a guard at the facility who authorities believe facilitated the attackers. He is Osman Ali Dagane, a Kenyan of Somali origin.

Another of the attackers, identified as Abdirahim Abdullahi, is the son of a Kenyan government chief and a former lawyer. The Kenyan authorities stated that Abdullahi was among the dead, dressed in the garb of the other attackers.

However, the attackers were not the only ones who took refuge to escape, as authorities found student Cynthia Cheroitich, 19, who was hiding in a wardrobe and drinking body lotion to survive for two days after the attack.

Cheroitich stated that she was too frightened to come out of the wardrobe. However, after a lecturer she knew convinced her that the police officers were not the al-Shabaab gunmen, Cheroitich emerged over 50 hours after the brutal attack began.

Four other survivors from the massacre at GUC emerged unscathed after seeking refuge in other hiding places on the campus.

The U.S. government issued a statement from its Kenyan embassy condemning the attacks and calling for swift retribution, promising to help the Kenyan authorities as they act to eliminate the threat posed by al-Shabaab.

The FBI was in Kenya on April 5, assisting Kenyan authorities in similar cooperation as found during the bombings of the U.S. embassy, an attack that first brought al-Qaeda to the attention of U.S. authorities.

Kenyan and U.S. authorities remain confident that al-Shabaab is facing elimination as a result of these attacks, with Kenyan authorities launching “unrelated” airstrikes in Somalia that are bombing al-Shabaab-controlled territories. The Kenyan Defense Forces are promising raids and assaults directed at controlling the extremists hiding in the Dadaab refugee camp.