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What just happened in Kenya?

Yesterday in Garissa, Kenya, gunmen associated with the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab targeted Christians in an attack on Garissa University College. Reports confirm 147 people have been killed and more than 80 others injured.

The terrorists entered the college grounds and killed two guards before attacking students during early morning prayer services.

Joel Ayora, a student who witnessed the attack, said gunmen burst into a Christian service, took hostages, and 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 and keeping an unknown number of Christians hostage, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We were sleeping when we heard a loud explosion that was followed by gunshots and everyone started running for safety,” student Japhet Mwala told AFP.

Collins Wetangula, the vice-chairman of the student union, said  when he heard the gunshots he locked himself and three roommates in their room.

“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots. Nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” he said. “The gunmen were saying sisi ni Al Shabab (Swaihi for we are Al Shabab),” Wetangula said.

When the gunmen arrived at his dormitory he could hear them opening doors and asking if the people who had hidden inside whether they were Muslims or Christians.

“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.”

Authorities killed four terrorists believed to be responsible for the attack.

How many Christians live in Kenya?

Kenya is the seventh most populous country in Africa, with 44.35 million people. Christianity is the dominant religion in Kenya, accounting for 82.5 percent of the total population. Islam is the second largest religion in Kenya, practiced by about 11.1 percent of the total population.

Who is al-Shabaab?

Al-Shabaab (Arabic for “The Youth”) is an Islamic terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda that is based in Somalia. Al-Shabab has staged numerous attacks in Kenya, including the attack on the Nairobi Westgate mall in 2013 that left 62 dead. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, al-Shabab is “fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia.”

How much religious violence occurs in Kenya?

According to reports analyzed by the Pew Research Center as part of our ongoing global study of religious restrictions and hostilities, more than 300 people were killed, injured or displaced as a result of religion-related terrorist attacks in Kenya in 2012, more than twice as many as in 2011 and more than a five-fold increase from 2010. In 2012, Kenya had nearly four times the level of social hostilities (8.3 on a scale of 10) as the median level among the 48 countries in the region (2.1). A Pew Research survey taken in March 2013 found that more than half of Kenyans (55 percent) said Islamic extremist groups pose a major threat to their country.