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Kenyan authorities under fire over university massacre response

Many Kenyans want answers as to why police and security units were unable to put a stop to the Garissa University massacre more quickly. Security has been stepped up around the country, particularly at Easter services.

Churches in Kenya bolstered security to protect their congregations over the Easter weekend in the wake of the attack by al-Shabab gunmen on the Garissa University campus last week, which left 148 people dead and many more injured.

The four masked militants singled out Christian students to be killed, while sparing some Muslims during the attack.

On Sunday, two uniformed police officers armed with AK-47 rifles manned the entrance gate to Nairobi’s Holy Family Basilica cathedral. Christians account for about 83 percent of Kenya's population of 44 million.

Kenya's authorities have imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in four counties along the 700-kilometer border with Somalia. They also deployed helicopters along the coast, which is popular with Western tourists and has been the target of Islamist attacks in the past.

Five people are said to have been arrested in connection with the attack. The four al-Shabab gunmen who carried out the massacre were killed by security forces.

Security forces criticized

Kenyan authorities responded to criticism in national media that special forces had taken too long to deploy to the site of the massacre.

The Nation newspaper said that the forces took at least seven hours to reach Garissa after receiving the first reports of the attack, arriving more slowly than some journalists driving from the capital, Nairobi, some 365 kilometers (225 miles) away.

Interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka, however, defended the speed of the deployment.

"It takes time to assess and make the decisions, escalating it from National Security Advisory Committee to the National Security Council and then to scramble the elite units, get them to the airport and fly them to Garissa, which is a two-hour flight. There were many moving parts," he said.

Government official's son

Kenyan police said on Sunday that one of the gunmen was the son of a government official. Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said Abdirahim Abdullahi was one of the four men who attacked the Garissa University College campus on Thursday. A Garissa-based official, who did not wish to be named, said the gunman was a former University of Nairobi law student, and that he had joined al-Shabab after graduating in 2013.

"The father had reported to security agents that his son had disappeared from home … and was helping the police try to trace his son by the time the Garissa terror attack happened," Njoka told Reuters. Abdullahi's father is a chief in Mandera County.

Al-Shabab said the assault in Garissa, which is 200 kilometers (120 miles) from the Somali border, was revenge for Kenya sending troops into Somalia to fight alongside African Union peacekeepers against the group.

Thursday's massacre was the deadliest attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, and the worst-ever attack by al-Shabab militants.

In 2013, the jihadists assaulted the Westgate shopping mall in the capital, triggering a four-day siege in which 67 people were killed.

jm/gsw (Reuters, AFP)

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