70 Kenyan students killed in university attack: Minister

Garissa (Kenya): At least 70 Kenyan students were massacred today when Somalia's Shebab Islamist group raided a university, the interior minister said, the country's deadliest attack since US embassy bombings in 1998.

"We are mopping up the area," Interior Minster Joseph Nkaiserry told reporters, saying that four gunmen had been killed after Kenyan troops launched an assault on the final building where the insurgents had holed up for over 12 hours.

"Unfortunately, we lost... a number of lives, we have not confirmed fully, but it is in the region of 70 students, and 79 have been injured, nine of them critically," he added.

The masked gunmen began the assault before dawn, using grenades to blast open the gates of the university in the northeastern town of Garissa, near the lawless border with war-torn Somalia, before attacking students as they slept.

"The terrorists, 90 per cent of the threat has beeneliminated... we have been able to confirm that four terrorists have been killed," he added, saying that troops were scouring the campus as the total number of gunmen was not known, but that the main operation was over.

"We are mopping up the area, and will update with the number of casualties," he said, imposing a dawn until dusk curfew on several northern and eastern Kenyan districts.

The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab claimed the pre-dawn attack, the same insurgents who carried out the Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi in September 2013, when four gunmen slaughtered at least 67 people in a four-day bloodbath.

Kenya has been hit by a wave of grenade and gun attacks, often blamed on sympathisers of the Shebab and sometimes aimed at police targets, since the army crossed into southern Somalia in 2011 to attack Islamist bases.

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