NAIROBI, Kenya — Islamist extremists linked to al Qaeda reportedly vowed Saturday to wage a war against civilians after killing nearly 150 people at a university in Kenya.
Four gunmen from Somali militant group al Shabab went on a killing spree on Thursday, hunting down and executing students in a campus in Garissa, a northeastern town 120 miles from the Somali border.
The raid has put Kenya on heightened alert and spooked Christian congregations, who were horrified by survivor testimonies, recalling how the Islamist militants had sought out Christians to take hostage and kill, while sparing some Muslims.
In the message reported by Reuters as a statement aimed at the Kenyan public, the group said the raid was retribution for Kenya's military presence in Somalia and mistreatment of Muslims within Kenya.
"No amount of precaution or safety measures will be able to guarantee your safety," the group said in an emailed statement received by Reuters in the Somali capital. NBC News has not been able to verify the statement.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta responded to the attack in a nationally televised address on Saturday, saying that his administration "shall respond in the severest ways possible."
"We will fight terrorism to the end," Kenyatta, who declared three days of national mourning, said. "I guarantee that my administration shall respond in the fiercest way possible."
The death toll in the Garissa blitz has risen to 148, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said late on Friday, adding that police were interviewing five suspects after making three additional arrests on Friday.
Security forces are pursuing the other accomplices, Kenyatta said.
"We will bring all of them to justice ... We are also in active pursuit of the mastermind and have placed a reward for his capture," he said.
The raid on Thursday was the deadliest in the east African nation since 1998, when al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassy in the capital Nairobi and killed more than 200 people.
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