AT LEAST 147 people have been killed and 79 wounded after al-Shabaab gunmen stormed a university in Kenya this morning, opened fire on dormitories, released Muslim students, and took Christians hostage.
As night fell, Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre tweeted that the siege at Garissa University College had ended and that dozens of hostages had been freed.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaisser said that security officers had killed four suspected al-Shabaab attackers that they had cornered in a dormitory.
As the siege neared its end earlier, Nkaisser said around 300 students remain unaccounted for, and told reporters that officials knew the whereabouts of approximately 500 out of 815 students. The disaster centre said plans are underway to evacuate those still in the building.
Conflicting accounts of the number of fatalities are emerging from the scene. Earlier, Nkaisser said the death toll had risen from 16 to 70. Kenya's National Disaster Operation Centre later revised the number to 147. However, a Kenyan police source told the Press Association that as many as 160 people had died.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew running from 6.30pm - 6.30am across for the four regions of Kenya which border Somalia has now been put into place as a precaution, said Kenyan police chief Joseph Boinet.
Heavy gunfire was reported in the early hours of Thursday morning at the Garissa University College, 120 miles from the Somalian border, when militants attacked the building.
Kenya's National Police Service said armed militants shot at campus guards to gain entry, triggering a "fierce shootout". The attackers still managed to get inside one of the student dormitories and some remain trapped inside.
A spokesman for al-Shabaab said the group is inside the campus and has released Muslim students.
"We've killed many people; Kenyans will be shocked when the go inside," he was quoted by the BBC as saying.
One student who witnessed the attack said he could hear militants opening doors and asking those hiding inside if they were Muslim or Christian. "If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot," he said. "With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die."
In a speech to the nation President Kenyatta Uhuru confirmed hostages had been taken: "I am saddened to inform the nation that early today, terrorists attacked Garissa University College killed and wounded several people and have taken others hostage."
The number of hostages being held by the group is not known. Police and military forces earlier said they were now trying to "flush out" gunmen from the campus.
It said one suspected terrorist was arrested as he tried to flee the scene.
A policeman at the scene earlier said he has counted 14 bodies being carried out of the campus by a Red Cross Ambulance.
"They include two of our officers who were also killed," he told Reuters. "We are finding it difficult to access the compound because some of the attackers are on top of a building and are firing at us whenever we try to gain entry."
One student who fled described chaotic scenes as gunmen burst into the building. "They are just shooting randomly," he said.
"My life was in danger, in fact everybody's. They were shooting at us with live bullets, everywhere, all over the school compound.
"I am trying to call [students still trapped inside] but I can't reach anyone."
Two of the fatalities were guards at the university gates.
The US Embassy in Nairobi condemned the shooting as a "terrorist attack" on its official Twitter feed.
One Red Cross official told the BBC the attack began at 5am local time when a grenade was launched at the university's gates.
"The attackers went into the girl's hostel which is when they took the hostel over," she said. "Forces responded and took over the operation and they have locked down the campus.
"According to local county government officials on the ground, we have 30 casualties, who have been taken to hospital. Four of them are very serious and most of the casualties have gunshot injuries."
A policewoman at the scene said up to 49 people had been wounded in the attack, all with bullet and shrapnel wounds.
Al-Shabaab has been responsible for a string of violent attacks in Kenya over recent years, which it claims are retribution for Kenya sending troops into Somalia.
Police believe the mastermind behind the attack may be Mohammed Mohamud, a teacher at a an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, who previously claimed responsibility for a bus attack in Makka, Kenya, in November that killed 28 people, and is alleged to lead al-Shabab's cross-border raids into Kenya.
Mohamud, also known by the names Dulyadin and Gamadhere, is now being sought under a $220,000 (£148,000) bounty for him.
Additional reporting by agencies
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