Senior Kenyan police official Pius Masai Mwachi has become the target of national disgust this week after implying that victims of the Garissa University terror attack that left 148 dead had not fought back sufficiently against the Al-Shabaab terrorists storming the campus. “Free yourself as soon as possible. Get out. Don’t just be killed like cockroaches,” he said.
Mwachi made the remarks in a press conference on the Garissa attack, following days of criticism from both families of the victims of the attack and national media that the government did not respond swiftly enough to reports that terrorists had stormed the campus. “When you are in the hands of terrorists, free yourself as soon as possible,” Mwachi told reports. “Fight out. Don’t just be killed like cockroaches, fight out. Some of you’ll be safe, because in fight out [sic], shout, make a noise, people come for assistance.”
Mwachi’s comments are widely being interpreted as placing some of the blame on the victims themselves for not attempting to attack the gunmen that stormed their campus. Four gunmen associated with the Somali jihadist group Al-Shabaab stormed campus on April 2, separating the Muslim from the Christian students and killing the Christians. One of the gunmen attacked the campus church, opening fire indiscriminately, assuming that everyone in the church was Christian. While initial reports suggested 15 students had died, the final tally was 148.
Survivors said they hid in closets, shrubbery, beds—even among their dead colleagues’s bodies, pretending they had also been killed. Many have said they never wish to return to Garissa and will not continue their education.
Mwachi made his comments at the morgue where families were still attempting to identify bodies.
A survivor of the 2013 al-Shabaab attack on Nairobi’s upscale Westgate mall responded to the remarks, “How insensitive can one get?” Others accused Mwachi of using language reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide to describe young adults killed in cold blood who stood little chance of fighting back. “Cockroach” was a term often used on propaganda radio to describe the Tutsi victims of the genocide.
Mwachi repeated this sentiment on Twitter, though omitting the “cockroach” comment. He received similar outrage from followers.
In addition to Mwachi’s remarks, officials at the press conference denied that any students were missing, contrary to claims by Garissa University officials. Security officials at the university claim that the actual death count is at 152, not 148, and that 166 students remain missing.
Kenyan government officials are now working to limit the mobility of al-Shabaab terrorists, freezing bank accounts of known jihadists. Somalia has contributed by placing new bounties on the 11 leaders of the group, which mostly operates within their borders.