The Islamic extremists who slaughtered 147 people at a college in Kenya as they shouted "God is great" appeared to have planned extensively, even targeting a site where Christians had gone to pray, survivors said Friday.
Police on Friday were at the campus of Garissa University College, taking fingerprints from the bodies of the four assailants and of the students and security officials who died, for thorough identification purposes. The northeastern Kenyan town lacks the facilities to store all the bodies.
In Nairobi, Kenya's capital, family members were lining up at a morgue where about 20 bodies had already been airlifted from Garissa, victims of the worst attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy by al-Qaida which killed more than 200 people. Screaming and crying relatives of the victims were assisted by Kenyan Red Cross staffers, who tried to console them.
One of the first things that the al-Shabab gunmen did when they assaulted the campus early Thursday, survivor Helen Titus said, was to head for a lecture hall where Christians were in early morning prayer. Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based extremist group with ties to al-Qaida.
"They investigated our area. They knew everything," Helen Titus told The Associated Press at a hospital in Garissa where she was being treated for a bullet wound to the wrist. Officials said 79 people were wounded.
Titus, a 21-year-old English literature student, said she covered her face and hair with the blood of classmates and lay still at one point during al-Shabab's deadliest attack on Kenyan soil in hopes the Islamic extremist gunmen would think she was dead.
The gunmen also told students hiding in dormitories to come out, assuring them that they would not be killed, said Titus, who wore a patient's gown as she sat on a bench in the hospital yard.
"We just wondered whether to come out or not," she said. Many students did, whereupon the gunmen started shooting men, saying they would not kill "ladies," Titus said. But they also shot women and targeted Christians, said Titus, who is a Christian.
Esther Wanjiru said she was awake at the time of the attack. Asked if she lost anyone, she said: "My best friend."
Another survivor, Nina Kozel, said she was woken up by screaming and that many students escaped by sprinting to the fences and jumping over them. Some suffered bruises, she said. Many men were unable to escape, and hid in vain under beds and in closets in their rooms, according to Kozel.
"They were shot there and then," she said.
Those who surrendered were either selected for killing, or freed in some cases, apparently because they were Muslim, she said.
The killers shouted "God is great" in Arabic as they proceeded with the slaughter, she said.
Security forces stood guard Friday at the gate of the school. School slogans on the wall outside said "Oasis of Innovation" and "A World Class University of Technological Processes and Development."
At one point, a group approached the college gate and was blocked by soldiers. Several women began shrieking and collapsed in apparent grief in the dust for several minutes. A bystander said the son of one of the women had died in the attack.
A small group of male demonstrators walked down a main road in Garissa with signs that read "We are against the killing of innocent Kenyans!!!! We are tired!!" and "Enough is enough. No more killing!! We are with you, our fellow Kenyans."
"We feel very sorry for them and we condemn the attack," demonstrator Abdullahi Muktar said of the victims.
Some surviving students awaited evacuation to Nairobi by plane from a nearby airstrip.
The masked attackers — strapped with explosives and armed with AK-47s — singled out non-Muslim students and then gunned them down without mercy, survivors said. The gunmen took dozens of hostages in a dormitory as they battled troops and police before the operation ended after about 13 hours, witnesses said.
Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said fighters the group was responsible for the attack. The al-Qaida-linked group has been blamed for a series of attacks in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, as well as other violence in the north. The group has vowed to retaliate against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants staging cross-border attacks and kidnappings.
Somali President Said Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for stronger collaboration between Somalia and Kenya to defeat al-Shabab.
Odula reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.