Seventy people were killed and 79 others wounded when Islamic extremist group al Shabaab attacked a university campus near Kenya's border with Somalia on Thursday morning, taking Christian students hostage and battling security forces over several hours.
CNN reports that by Thursday afternoon, police and soldiers had surrounded and sealed off Garissa University College and rescued 500 students, who were being held by the terrorist group.
Joel Ayora, who was on the campus and witnessed the attack, said gunmen attacked during a Christian worship service. Taking hostages from the service, they then "proceeded to the hostels, shooting anybody they came across except their fellows, the Muslims."
The attackers separated students by religion, allowing Muslims to leave but holding hundreds of Christians hostage, Agence France-Presse reported..
Abdikadir Sugow, the spokesman for the Garissa county government, said the gunmen, who were eventually cornered in a college dormitory, were seen wearing "combat gear," including what appeared to be "either bulletproof vests or suicide bomb vests."
"It is ongoing," Abbas Gullet, secretary general of the Kenyan Red Cross, said of the students who remain in captivity. "There are students that are being held against their will by these terrorists in the dormitories."
An unidentified student, recounting the attack to Kenya's Citizen TV, revealed that amid the terror and chaos, many students accidentally ran towards the gunmen, who stormed the building at 5:30 in the morning.
"Guys started jumping up and down, running for their lives, but it's unfortunate that where they were going to is where the gunshots were coming from," the student said.
ABC News reports that last week, authorities had warned of a potential terror attack targeting campuses via a flyer posted at the University of Nairobi and other schools at the capital.
"Intelligence reports indicate that the [al-Shabab] terror group is planning retaliatory attacks on vital installations in Nairobi including a major university," the March 25 flyer said. It asked all students and staff there to "continue being vigilant and diligent while in the University and other crowded places."
Al Shabaab, which is linked the al-Qaeda, seeks to impose Sharia law throughout the region and has vowed to punish Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight alongside the African Union peacekeepers. The group previously carried out a series of deadly attacks in Garissa, and had separated Muslims from Christians in several of its earlier raids in Kenya, according to the AFP.
On Thursday afternoon, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a statement extending condolences to the families of victims and saying that he and his government "continue to pray for the quick recovery of the injured, and the safe rescue of those held hostage."