At least 15 people were shot dead in an attack on a college in Kenya

Kenya University shooting attackAPStudents of the Garissa University College get out of a house where they were taking shelter from an attack by gunmen in Garissa, Kenya, Thursday, April 2, 2015.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Gunmen attacked a college campus in northeast Kenya early Thursday, opening fire in dormitories and killing at least 15 people and wounding 60 others, witnesses said.

The attack bore the hallmarks of a Somali Islamic extremist group, and Al Shabaab has since claimed responsibility for the shooting.

The militant group also claims it is holding Christian hostages from the attack, according to Reuters.

Augustine Alanga, a 21-year-old student who survived the attack at Garissa University College, described a panicked scene as gunshots rang out outside their dormitory in the pre-dawn hours when most people were still fast asleep.

The shooting became more intense almost immediately, he told The Associated Press by phone. The heavy gunfire forced some students to stay indoors as others fled with gunmen firing at them.

He said he saw at least five heavily armed, masked gunmen.

“I am just now recovering from the pain as I injured myself while trying to escape. I was running barefoot,” said Alanga, who was one of scores of students who managed to escape through barb-wire fencing.

At the time the attack started — 5:30 a.m. — morning prayers were underway at the university mosque, where students were not attacked, he said.

A mortuary attendant in the town of Garissa says at least 15 people have been killed and at some 60 were injured. The attendant saw the casualties arrive by ambulance. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Some of the more serious wounded were being flown to Nairobi, the capital, authorities said.

Two police officers were reportedly killed in the attack, a policeman who was at the university told Reuters.

“We are finding it difficult to access the compound because some of the attackers are on top of a building and are firing at us whenever we try to gain entry,” he said.

Kenya University shooting attackAPStudents of the Garissa University College take shelter in a vehicle after fleeing from an attack by gunmen in Garissa, Kenya, Thursday, April 2, 2015.

The National Disaster Operations Center said on Twitter that three of four dorms have been evacuated, with the gunmen cornered in one dorm. No further details were immediately available and Kenya Defence Forces have surrounded the area, journalists said, impeding their access.

Terrified students streamed out of buildings, some young men shirtless, as arriving police officers hunkered down, taking cover. The gunmen had opened fire at guards, triggering a “fierce shootout” with police guarding student dorms, Kenya’s National Police Service said in a written statement.

The attackers managed to get into the dorms of Garissa University College, raising the possibility of hostage-taking.

Kenya’s National Disaster Operations Center said 29 people wounded during the attack have been admitted to a local hospital, four of them in critical condition. Most have gunshot wounds, the center said.

Police and military surrounded the buildings and were trying to secure the area, police officer Musa Yego told AP.

Abass Gulett, head of the Red Cross in Kenya, said fighting was ongoing as the security forces try to retake some university blocks from the gunmen. “

Al-Shabab attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013, killing dozens.

Kenya’s northern and eastern regions, which are near the Somali border, have suffered many attacks blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Somali group, al-Shabab, which has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops into Somalia to fight the militants. Kenya sent its troops there in 2011 to fight al-Shabab militants following cross-border attacks.

Last month, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for attacks in the county of Mandera on the Somali border in which twelve people died. Four of them died in an attack on the convoy of Mandera County Governor Ali Roba.

Police statistics show that 312 people have been killed in al-Shabab attacks in Kenya from 2012 to 2014. Thirty-eight people were killed and 149 wounded in Garissa in the same period.

NOW WATCH: What the Chinese saying ‘The ugly wife is a treasure at home’ actually means

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.