The death toll from the Islamist militant group al Shabaab’s attack on a Kenyan university has risen to 70, with dozens of students and staff wounded.
Police and soldiers surrounded the Garissa University College and exchanged gunfire with the attackers throughout the day.
Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, an Al Shabaab’s spokesperson, said the gunmen were holding Christian hostages inside. “We sorted people out and released the Muslims,” he told Reuters.
Several hours into the incident, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery told reporters in Garissa that the death toll was at least 70, with 79 wounded, but the siege was almost over.
About 500 out of 815 students were accounted for, he said. He did not specify precisely how many students, staff or security personnel had died but said four al Shabaab fighters were killed. However, he cautioned that “the operation is ongoing, anything can happen.”
One Kenyan policeman at the scene of the attack said six al Shabaab fighters, from the original 10 that stormed the university campus, remain holed up inside, along with about 100 student hostages.
Al Shabaab, who carried out the deadly attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013, claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn raid on the campus in Garissa, a town 200 km (120 miles) from the Somali border.
Some students have reportedly managed to escape unaided.