A university where Islamic extremists killed 148 people nine months ago reopened on Monday, an event welcomed by many Kenyans as a victory against the jihadis.
“Just by opening the university we have won the war against al-Shabab,” said Khadija Mohamed, who was a counselor at the school when it was attacked last April, and who was among the returning staff and faculty. About 60 students are expected when some classes resume next week and the bulk of them, some 600, in September.
Even though there was high security, returning to the college in Garissa, a town in eastern Kenya, was difficult for Mohamed who remembers the carnage and the victims.
“Coming back to this college gives me a flashback of the killings,” she told The Associated Press. “As their counselor, the students were very close to me. They were like my children. I lost many of my children.”
Four gunmen of the Somali extremist group stormed the university at dawn April 2, separating the Muslim students and killing the non-Muslims.
Before killing the students, some of the gunmen ordered their victims to phone their families and ask them to tell President Uhuru Kenyatta to withdraw Kenyan troops from Somalia.
All four gunmen were killed by a police commando unit, nearly 12 hours after the attack began. The government has been heavily criticized for an uncoordinated and slow response to the attack despite the college being just 500 meters (550 yards) from a military base.
Since then the bullet-scarred walls of the university have been repaired. A dorm where many students were mercilessly shot has been renamed after a river.
Kenyans and media outlets lauded the reopening on Twitter, with one radio station proclaiming: “The pen is mightier than the gun.”
Registrar Isaack Mohammed Noor said at least 150 of 200 staff had reported for work. Police wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying automatic weapons patrolled the grounds. A police post with 20 officers has been established at the campus to boost security.
The bloodbath at the university was the worst in the wave of extremist attacks Kenya has experienced since it sent its troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight al-Shabab, al-Qaida’s affiliate in East Africa.
Noor told AP that he was living at the school during the attack and has vivid memories of the rampage in which 142 students, many of whom he knew, and six security officers died.
Reopening the university is a victory, said Ali Bashir, a high school teacher who taught Kenyan student Abdirahim Abdullahi, believed to be the leader of the attack.
“The reopening of the university will have youth occupied in pursuing education, and this will prevent terror groups from radicalizing the youth in our region,” Bashir said.
Al-Shabab in neighboring Somalia has recruited hundreds of Kenyan youths, who make up the largest contingent of its foreign fighters.
About 60 privately sponsored students who survived the attack are expected to return by Wednesday and teaching should start next week, said Noor. Some 600 student survivors, who were enrolled on government scholarships, were moved to the main campus in the western town of Eldoret and will continue with their education there, Noor said. New students will be admitted in September, he said.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Tom Odula