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Kenya in mourning

April 5, 2015

Kenyans are remembering the victims of this week's massacre at Easter ceremonies on the first of three days of national mourning. President Kenyatta has called on the country to unite in the face of terrorism.

People react after meeting their relative (C) who was rescued from the Garissa University attack at Nyayo stadium in Kenya's capital Nairobi April 4, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Easter ceremonies across Kenya are being held in commemoration of the some 150 students and security personnel killed on Thursday in a university massacre carried out by Somali al-Shabab militants.

The brutal and bloody attack in the northeastern city of Garissa has overshadowed what is meant to be a joyful day in the calendar of the church in a country where some 80 percent of the population profess to be Christian. Easter Sunday is the day Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after two days in the tomb.

The Islamist militants who carried out the day-long attack are reported to sorted out non-Muslims from among the students before taunting and executing them.

Announcing the period of mourning on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta condemned what he called "mindless slaughter" and vowed to respond to the attack "in the severest way possible."

He also called for the killings to unite, and not divide, the country.

President Uhuru Kenyatta REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Kenyatta vowed to 'fight terrorism to the end'Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Pope Francis has also added his voice to the international chorus of condemnation of the attack at Easter services, criticizing what he called the world's indifference to jihadist attacks on Christians.

"Today we see our brothers persecuted, decapitated, crucified for their faith in you, under our eyes and often with our complicit silence," he said after the traditional Good Friday procession through Rome, which recreates Jesus' last hours before the crucifixion.

Slow response?

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

The major 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.

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

Kenyan police said on Sunday that one of the gunmen was the son of a government official.

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.

The group says its attacks in Kenya are in retaliation for the deployment of Kenyan troops to neighboring Somalia to aid government and African Union forces there to combat the militants.

tj/jil (AFP, AP, dpa)