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Kenya Copes With Deadliest Attack Since 1998 Embassy Bombing

Garissa University students comfort each other after they were rescued from Thursday's deadly attack.

One day after four gunmen killed at least 147 people in an attack on a university campus in Kenya, police are hunting terrorism suspects, and students are debating whether to return to Garissa University College. A teachers union says the school should shut down.

"I can't come back here again. It is like risking my life to secure my future. I can't do that," second-year student Pallete Okombo tells Kenya's Daily Nation. "Some of my friends were killed. I was calling them, but they were not picking up. They were in the hostels. I had rented a house outside the university."

For Kenya, Thursday's terrorist attack orchestrated by Islamist militant group al-Shabab was the deadliest since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. It targeted the school in Garissa, a city in eastern Kenya that's about 90 miles from the border with Somalia, where al-Shabab is based.

Friday, police released the names of nine men who are suspected of planning or aiding terrorist attacks in Kenya, calling them "bloodthirsty, armed and dangerous."

Condemning the violence, a national teachers union called for the government to permanently close the college, which only recently became a degree-conferring institution. According to Kenya's Standard Media, the Kenya National Union of Teachers wants the students to transfer to safer areas, saying that the Garissa campus should become a training academy for police and the military.

The Vatican has issued a statement in which Pope Francis condemned the attack as an "act of senseless brutality" and saying that the pope "prays for a change of heart among its perpetrators."

Thursday's violence began with a rapid attack in the predawn hours and continued into a siege that lasted until after nightfall. That's when security forces fired on the gunmen, reportedly detonating their explosive vests. The death toll, initially reported at 14, rose sharply throughout the day.

"The gunmen had chosen a block of university dorm rooms ideal for a standoff, with a clear line of sight in all directions," NPR's Gregory Warner reports from Nairobi. "That attack was also designed to trap civilians inside a building and extend a siege for maximum media attention."

There were also reports that the gunmen fired indiscriminately at times — and that at other times, they attempted to target Christians and spare the lives of Muslims.

Gregory also notes that al-Shabab, which also claimed responsibility for the 2013 attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, "says it's punishing Kenya for supplying troops to fight Islamist extremists in Somalia."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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