NEW: "We did everything that we could do," Kenya's foreign minister says
Despite intelligence, rapid response team stuck in Nairobi for hours after massacre, official says
Al-Shabaab's Mohamed Mohamud "has a lot of grudges against the Kenyans," expert says
They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and fellow citizens.
“The latest attack of Al-Shabaab bases by the Kenya military is part of the ongoing operations that started in 2011. It is not a retaliation to the Garissa attack. The operation has been ongoing,” the source said Monday.
It is customary for Kenyan military sources not to give their names to media.
Two of the airstrikes hit Al-Shabaab training camps, according to a resident of the southwest Somalian town of Bardera, almost 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Kenyan border, and a local journalist who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety.
The Kenyan military began its bombing raids Sunday afternoon, targeting the Al-Shabaab stronghold of Godon Dhawe, Somali resident Ibrahim Mohammed said. Godon Dhawe is between Bardera and the Somalia-Kenya border.
Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group based in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the university attack.
Who knew what when?
Kenyan authorities had intelligence beforehand that a university in Garissa could be attacked, yet the country’s rapid response team was stuck in Nairobi for hours after the massacre awaiting transport, a police source said Monday.
It’s unclear why the elite team was stuck in the Kenyan capital about 230 miles (370 kilometers) west of the attack. Kenyan politicians and Nairobi-based journalists arrived on the scene before the team did.
Once the team entered the university complex, the hourslong siege was quickly defused.
But a government spokesman defended the response time.
“With the benefit of hindsight, you can always say things could have been done better,” said Manoah Esipisu, a spokesman for Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed echoed that sentiment in an interview with CNN on Monday. She denied reports that an elite rapid response team single-handedly ended the siege.
“We have a military garrison in Garissa, and the work began immediately after the attack was reported and continued for a number of hours until we were able to rescue 663 students of the 800 students that had been taken hostage by these terrorists. So the response was adequate,” she said. “We did everything that we could do.”
She repeated Esipisu’s assertion that dubbing the response slow is a reaction that comes only with the luxury of hindsight.
“Obviously when parents are grieving and the country is mourning, it’s always easy to fall back on things like that, but I can assure you that we took very quick action as soon as this was reported,” Mohamed said. “Obviously hindsight is always 20/20. We did everything that we could do.”
Who’s behind the attack?
Kenya’s Interior Ministry named Mohamed Mohamud as the organizer of the attack. The senior Al-Shabaab leader is also known by the aliases Dulyadin and Gamadhere, it said.
The country’s Interior Ministry singled out Mohamud, a senior leader of Al-Shabaab, on Twitter. He is also known by the aliases Dulyadin and Gamadhere, it said.
Mohamud is “credited with having an extensive terrorist network within Kenya,” according to a Kenyan ministry document given to CNN.
The ministry offered a reward of 20 million Kenyan shillings, or about $215,000, for information on his whereabouts.
“We appeal to anyone with any info on #Gamadhere to share with relevant authorities and security agencies,” the Interior Ministry posted on Twitter.
He is in charge of external operations against Kenya, according to a government document, and commands the militia along the border.
His position as one of Al-Shabaab’s top field commanders in southern Somalia has brought him into direct conflict with Kenyan troops deployed as part of African Union forces in the country.
“This is a man who has a lot of grudges against the Kenyans,” said Stig Jarle Hansen, an associate professor at Oslo’s Norwegian University of Life Sciences and author of “Al-Shabaab in Somalia: The History and Ideology of a Militant Islamist Group.”
Network stretching into Kenya
Mohamud’s network extends within the Dadaab refugee camp, the document says. Dadaab is the world’s biggest refugee camp, home to thousands of people, according to the United Nations. It’s in Kenya’s North Eastern Province near Somalia.
Garissa, the town where the university attack took place, is about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the Somali border.
It’s within “striking distance” of Mohamud’s stronghold in Somalia’s Middle Juba province, Hansen told CNN. But he noted that Mohamud is better known “for tactical military attacks rather than terrorist attacks.”
Dorm becomes scene of a slaughter
Al-Shabaab is based in Somalia, and its violence has spread to Kenya before. In 2013, militants attacked Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall, leaving 67 people dead.
Though the terrorist group is based in Somalia, it hasn’t confined its violence to the lawless nation. In 2013, militants attacked Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall.
Mohamud has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the past few years, including December’s attack on a quarry in a Kenyan village near the Somali border, which killed at least 36 people.
In that attack, Al-Shabaab militants separated non-Muslim workers from their Muslim counterparts and killed them.
Mohamud is Kenyan and has three wives and three siblings, including two with links to Al-Shabaab, the document says.
He’s from a clan, the Ogaden, that has a heavy presence in Kenya and Somalia, Hansen said.
“The borders historically have been meaningless to them,” he said.
CNN exclusive: Exposing smuggler routes across the Somalia-Kenya border
Government official’s son suspected
On Sunday, Kenya’s Interior Ministry identified another terrorist involved in the Garissa University College attack as Abdirahim Abdullahi.
Abdullahi’s father, Abdullahi Daqare, a government chief in Mandera in northern Kenya, told CNN that his son was missing.
Daqare is a Kenyan Somali, he said.
His son graduated in 2013 from Nairobi University law school and worked for a bank for two months before he went missing, Daqare said in a phone interview.
“I have received reports from people who found information (on) the Internet that my son was one of the terrorists,” Daqare said. “I previously told the government that the son is missing. I sought their help to find the whereabouts of my son.”
He added that the two had not been in contact since his son disappeared. Daqare said he had “really given up on him.”
‘Where are you, my children?’
On Sunday, families of some of the more than 147 people slain at Garissa University College left a mortuary in Nairobi after identifying the bodies of their loved ones.
One woman almost had to be carried out.
“Why? Why? Where are you, my children?” she wailed.
Across Garissa, there was a sense of fear, foreboding and grief.
The news agency Reuters videotaped a man holding his daughter’s hand at a church as military patrols and security officials searched people. A church member told the agency, “Nowhere is safe, but here in church you can come, you be with God and then you just console yourself.”
Three days of national mourning for victims of the attack, declared by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, began Sunday.
CNN’s Christian Purefoy and Lilian Leposo reported from Garissa; Eliott C. McLaughlin and Greg Botelho wrote from Atlanta; and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Mick Krever, David McKenzie, Dominique van Heerden, Nick Migwi, Ashley Fantz, Florence Obondo, Jessica King and journalist Omar Nor contributed to this report.