First came the gunshots. Then the footsteps, as Al-Shabaab militants followed her into her dorm room.
Cynthia Cheroitich went into a closet, covering herself with clothes. Her two roommates hid under their beds, until the gunmen called them out.
“(The gunmen) told them if you don’t know to read to them in the Muslim word, whatever, and then you lie down,” Cheroitich told CNN. “And then, if you know, you go to the other side.”
The 19-year-old student at Kenya’s Garissa University College didn’t see what happened next, but she heard more than enough.
“They were shooting everywhere,” she said. “I didn’t want to open my eyes.”
For the next two days, Cheroitich didn’t budge. Unable to get to water, she hydrated by drinking body lotion. When police went into her room — well after the carnage was done, with 147 dead at the school — she didn’t believe them. Only a visit by the head of the university convinced her that, finally, it was safe to come out.
Al-Shabaab threatens ‘another bloodbath’ in Kenya
Cheroitich’s survival story, which she recounted to CNN on Saturday, is a rare bright spot in what has been a horrific week in Garissa, a town about 90 miles from the Somali border, and throughout Kenya.
It is all due to Al-Shabaab, the Islamist extremist group that is based in Somalia but hasn’t confined its terrorism to there — as evidenced by Thursday’s university attack and the 2013 siege of Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall.
Saturday, the terrorist group warned that more carnage is coming as it promised “another bloodbath” in Kenya.
The threat drew a sharp response from Nadif Jama, the governor of Garissa county.
“The fallacy and satanic mindset of Al-Shabaab is that in Somalia, they kill Muslims and Somalis,” Jama said. “They cross the border here and then say they are killing non-Muslims. That is a tricky way of doing business.”
Jama said the militants were “bent on nothing but destruction” and aimed to sow division between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“But that is something we need to fight,” Jama said.
Police in Garissa on Saturday paraded the bodies of men they said had carried out the attack.
The corpses — locked in a macabre embrace and partially wrapped in an orange tarp — were piled on the back of a pickup truck and driven to a primary school soccer pitch for viewing.
A large crowd gathered, despite the baking sun and foul stench.
The truck drove up next to the onlookers, so that they could inspect the bodies.
Anger seethed in the crowd.
“These gunmen, they killed innocent children. We want to burn these people,” one man told CNN.
Presidents blasts Kenyans who help Al-Shabaab
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also had some harsh words Saturday for Al-Shabaab, as well as any those who supported them.
In a nationally televised speech, Kenyatta said the nation’s fight against terrorism “has been made all the more difficult by the fact that the planners and the financiers of this brutality are deeply embedded in our communities and were seen previously as ordinary, harmless people.”
Kenyatta condemned “corruption of the worst and most criminal kind (when) Kenyans … finance, hide and recruit on behalf of Al-Shabaab.”
“There is no form of legal penalty, social shaming and godly condemnation that they do not deserve, to the fullest extent,” the President said.
Describing Al-Shabaab as an “existential threat to our republic,” Kenyatta urged his fellow Kenyans to “tell those that believe a caliphate is possible in Kenya that we are one indivisible, sovereign and democratic state.”
“That fight will never change,” he added. “Our forefathers bled and died for this nation. And we will do everything to defend our way of life.”
Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning for the victims of the attack. CNN