We must stand with Kenya just as we did for Paris
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We must stand with Kenya just as we did for Paris

It is six days since 148 students were murdered and another 79 wounded after Islamic terrorists stormed Garissa University College in north-east Kenya last Thursday. The internet has been full of photos of dead students; strewn around classrooms and courtyards, floors red with blood, killed simply for being Christian.

This is an echo of the massacre in Paris on January 7, when two French gunmen, affiliated with al-Qaeda in Yemen, murdered 11 people and wounded another 11 in the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Five others were killed in a related attack in a Jewish neighbourhood in Paris. Four days later, on January 11, an estimated two million massed on the streets of Paris to mourn the dead and support free speech. At the front rank of those marching were leaders from 40 nations, with the leaders of France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy at the vanguard.

World leaders in the streets of Paris following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January.

World leaders in the streets of Paris following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January.Credit:Reuters

No such comparable mass demonstration, no gathering of world leaders, is being organised for Kenya. Yet the lives of those 148 young Kenyans are just as important and symbolic as those murdered in Paris. We do not criticise the absence of world leaders travelling to Kenya. Paris sits at the centre of Europe while Garissa is a distant outpost of democracy. But the carnage in Garissa, the scale of wasted life and potential, is, to the Herald, as important as the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

Today we link arms with Kenya, just as we linked arms with France after the Paris killings. To see classrooms turned red with carnage, desks and chairs upturned, the bodies of students everywhere, fills the heart with dread. All the victims were at university to build a career and contribute to their country. Many of those wounded will be permanently damaged, so the toll will be higher than 148 dead.

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The amount of violence being committed by killers invoking the name of Islam has become so widespread, and so indiscriminate, that world leaders would be doing little else if they spent their time attending funerals to show respect for lives lost and solidarity with nations afflicted by terror massacres. The number of these attacks is growing, not subsiding. An Australian was one of 21 people murdered on March 18 by jihadist gunmen who indiscriminately targeted foreign tourists at the Bardo National Museum in Tunisia.

In this latest attack on Kenya, the gunmen were members of al-Shabab, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Somalia, which has issued statements claiming the attack was in retaliation for Kenya's military intervention in Somalia in 2011 and promising more "bloodbaths" for Christians in Kenya.

Kenya's affliction with jihadi terrorism began in 1998 with the bombing of the United States embassy in Nairobi, which killed 224 people. In Mombasa in 2002, 13 were killed and 80 injured in a truck bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel. Two missiles were also fired at an Israeli airline. They missed, but all flights from Israel to Kenya ceased thereafter. In 2013, an attack by al-Shabab gunmen at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi killed 67 and wounded 175. In May 2014, two bombs exploded on a bus near Nairobi, killing three and wounding 62. Two weeks later, another bombing, in a market in Nairobi, killed 12 and injured 70. In July 2014, al-Shabab gunmen raided villages in northern Kenya and murdered 29 villagers.

With the tempo of terrorist violence increasing, last November students at Garissa college protested about a lack of security on campus given its relative proximity to the porous border with Somalia 200 kilometres away. A large wire fence was erected at the campus. Last week, the fence deterred no-one and merely hindered the escape of students.

The day before the massacre, Kenya's President, Uhuru Kenyatta, chastised the governments of Australia and Britain for issuing travel warnings about Kenya. The president described these warnings as a vestige of colonialism. Obviously, they simply recognised Kenya's dangerous new reality, living adjacent to a failed state that is a breeding ground for jihadists. Given the long history of friendship, tourism and Commonwealth links between Kenya and Australia, the new threat level merely compounds the shocking loss at Garissa.

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