Less than two years after shoppers in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall were ambushed by Al-Shabaab militants, the Somali terrorist group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s massacre of almost 150 students at Kenya’s Garissa University College. Today, the bodies of 48 students were transported by Kenya Air Force Plane from Garissa County to Chiromo Mortuary in Nairobi. In both tragedies, some news sources have claimed Al-Shabaab was targeting Christians, versus Muslims, to kill and hold hostage.
Abdia, a research student at a university near Garissa, says she believes such reports are aiding Al-Shabaab in trying to fracture Kenyans along religious lines.
“The Muslims and the Christians have coexisted for so long,” she said of relations between Kenyan adherents of the faiths. “Kenyan citizens do understand that these people [Al-Shabaab] want to cause mayhem among the communities.”
Abdia, who used to be a lecturer in biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology at a university near Garissa before leaving to embark on a research project, asked that we not use her last name for fear of courting “problems.”
Speaking by phone from Kenya, she described the mood of people in Garissa County as seized with fear. “People are now terrified. No one is receiving your call.”
Of the atmosphere in Kenya as a whole, Abdia said the nation is engulfed with sadness even as the hashtag #OneKenya seeks to unite the nation on social media. The Kenyan government has offered a reward of 20 Million Kenyan Shillings ($216,000) for the capture of Mohamed Mahmud who is believed to be a commander of Al-Shabaab.
Abdia chose her words carefully when speaking about the government’s ability to protect the country from future attack. “We need much more than what we are seeing now.”
Follow Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond on Twitter at @nanaekua