UPDATE: Gunmen storm Kenyan university in Garissa, death toll at 17 - CNBC Africa

UPDATE: Gunmen storm Kenyan university in Garissa, death toll at 17

East Africa

by Elayne Wangalwa 0

According to reports, gunmen are holding several students hostage at the Garissa University College.PHOTO: The daily star

At least 17 people including two police officers have been confirmed dead following a gun attack at Moi University, Garissa campus.

According to government officials hundreds of students are yet to be accounted for while one of the suspected attackers has been arrested.

The gun battle now in its eighth hour, comes on the back of various terror alerts issued by several embassies based in Nairobi and Kampala.

The government of Kenya as late as Wednesday evening dismissed these alerts as acts of economic sabotage against the country.

(READ MORE: Kenyatta’s travel advisory hit back backfires amid attack)

Masked gunmen stormed a college campus in northeastern Kenya, setting off explosions and exchanging gunfire with security forces for several hours.

According to the US Embassy, al-Shabaab militants have claimed responsibility for the attack and report that they have taken several people hostage. 

The government says that the death toll is now at 17 and 56 people have been injured.

Kenya’s interior ministry said three of the four hostels have already been evacuated and reports that the attackers have been cornered. The rescue operation is still ongoing.

Kenya’s Red Cross has reported that eight people have been killed. According to reports, gunmen are holding several students hostage at the Garissa University College. Gunmen are reported to have shot indiscriminately at people in the university injuring many of them. Moreover, gunshots and explosions have been heard since the early hours of the morning.

“Armed attackers forced their way into Garissa University by shooting at the guards manning the main gate at around 5:30am. The attackers shot indiscriminately while inside the university,” Kenya’s new Inspector General Joseph Boinnet has said in a statement.

According to Reuters, police who encircled the campus at the Garissa University College were joined by Kenyan soldiers as the standoff continued over several hours, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper and Capital FM radio station reported.

“I urge Kenyans to remain calm as our officers work to make sure that the attackers are ejected from the hostel and normalcy returns within the shortest time possible,” Boinnet said.

A policewoman at the scene told Reuters two security guards at the campus had been killed and the gunmen were likely to have taken hostages because many students remain trapped inside the campus in the town of Garissa.

“Two guards who were manning the gate at the university have been killed,” she said. “We can hear gunshots from inside the compound but at this point we can’t tell who is shooting at who or what.”

Last week, the United Kingdom and the Australian governments updated their travel advisories to Kenya warning of imminent attacks in the country.

This attack has occurred just a day after Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hit back on nations that have issued travel advisories to the country stating that the country is safe.

“It is safe as any capital in any country in the world,” Kenyatta said.

“We still have security challenges but we as a government are doing everything that we can to ensure that we both bolster our security in all parts of the country.”

(READ MORE: Australia warns of imminent attacks in Kenya)

Somali Islamist militant group al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Garissa and across Kenya in the past, including the 2013 attack on Westgate mall in the capital Nairobi.

(READ MORE: Kenya announces plans to reopen Nairobi mall after attack)

Al Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab has vowed to punish Kenya for sending troops into Somalia alongside African Union peacekeepers to fight the group.

*Additional reporting by Reuters