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Kenya starts to bury Garissa massacre dead

10 April 2015, 14:03

Nairobi - The funerals began Friday of students killed in a university massacre of almost 150 people, as some parents still waited to receive the remains of their loved ones.

In Nairobi, hundreds of students gathered as the body of Angela Nyokabi Githakwa, known as Jojo, was taken amid tears and wails from the mortuary to her home village in Kiambu, some 20 kilometres (15 miles) to the north.

Friends and family sobbed around the white coffin, with a gold cross on top.

On Thursday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed letters to the families of those killed, expressing his "condolences and that of the entire country."

"I promise that as a nation, we shall never forget them, nor forgive those who took her life," Kenyatta's letter to one student read.

The massacre, Kenya's deadliest attack since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, claimed the lives of 142 students, three police officers and three soldiers at the university in the northeastern town of Garissa.

Kenkyatta's letter has been given to the families of 130 victims, with the remaining to be "signed after identification procedures are complete", a statement from the president's office said.

In the main mortuary in Nairobi, some bodies were being collected on Friday, with more than 20 coffins lined up, surrounded by photographs of the victims.

Dozens of people, however, are still waiting to collect the bodies of their relatives over a week since attack.

Jackson Kilimo waited with a sombre family group to collect three victims, who all came from Kenya's Marakwet district, 380 kilometres (235 miles) northwest of Nairobi.

"We identified the bodies the day after the tragedy happened, but it took time because the government wanted to be 100 percent sure of the identities, and the post mortem procedure takes time," said Kilimo.

Kenyan media have raised questions about the exact death toll, saying that students are still missing who were not included among the official list of those killed, but the government has angrily rejected the claims as "unfounded rumours."

But amid the gloom at the mortuary, there was one rare piece of good news.

One family who had camped out for the week in a desperate wait, found out on Thursday that their missing child had been staying with friends and was alive.

"We found one people alive," said George Williams, an event manager, helping organise support for the crowds waiting. "The family had been camping here but the student had gone with friends without telling his parents".

The extremists lined up non-Muslim students for execution in what Kenyatta described as a "barbaric medieval slaughter".

Kenyan warplanes this week destroyed two Islamist bases, following a promise by Kenyatta that he would retaliate "in the severest way possible".

The Shebab fled their power base in Somalia's capital Mogadishu in 2011, and continue to battle the AU force, AMISOM, sent to drive them out that includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

The group has carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring countries, notably Kenya and Uganda, in response to their participation in the AU force.

Since the attack, the Shebab have warned of a "long, gruesome war" unless Kenya withdraws its troops from Somalia.

Shebab fighters also carried out the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi in September 2013, a four-day siege which left at least 67 people dead.

A $215,000 (200,000 euro) bounty has also been offered for alleged Shebab commander Mohamed Mohamud, a former Kenyan teacher said to be the mastermind behind the attack and believed to now be in Somalia.

Authorities have named one of the four gunmen killed as a fellow Kenyan -- a once promising university law graduate called Abdirahim Abdullahi, an ethnic Somali -- highlighting the Shebab's ability to recruit within the country.

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