GARISSA, Kenya, April 2 (UPI) — At least 15 people were killed early Thursday and scores were wounded in what U.S. officials are classifying a terrorist attack on a university campus in Kenya, authorities said.
Witnesses reported at least five masked gunmen stormed the campus of Garissa University College, in eastern Kenya, Thursday morning and began firing indiscriminately. The gunmen gained access to the campus and at least two buildings after firing at guards, BBC News reported, killing at least 15 people. Several students have also been taken hostage.
According to some witnesses, the assailants began firing at worshippers praying inside a campus mosque. In addition to the 15 killed, officials said more than two dozen people were taken to a hospital.
A short time later, authorities sent troops into the attack zone to track down the gunmen, the BBC News report said. Witnesses said the attackers had by that time entered a student residential building and continued firing. Police and military forces were reportedly working to engage the gunmen and lure them from the residences.
The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi on Thursday called the incident an act of terrorism.
“We are saddened & angered by today’s terrorist attack @ #Garissa Univ. Our deepest condolences 2 family/friends of victims,” the Embassy tweeted along with the hashtag CowardsNeverWin.
“29 injured from the Garissa attack have been admitted at Garissa Level 5 Hospital. 4 in critical condition. Majority have gunshot wounds,” Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Centre tweeted.
Authorities are not yet sure who is behind the campus attack, but some suspect the Somali radical group al-Shabab — which has repeatedly threatened to attack in Kenya. Somalia borders Kenya’s eastern flank, where tensions have traditionally run high and retaliatory attacks occur with regularity.
Al-Shabab, a group fully recognized as a terror organization by the United States and Britain, is reportedly attempting to form an Islamic State in Somalia. Garissa is located about 90 miles west of the Somali border.
Earlier this week, British and Australian officials alerted its citizens of potential terrorist activities in various parts of Kenya — including Garissa.
Garissa University College was founded in 2011 and has a student body of around 900.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that President Barack Obama was planning to visit Kenya in July for a business summit. It was not immediately known whether the Garissa attack might impact those plans.