Nairobi, Kenya – A Kenyan court sentenced three men to long prison sentences on Wednesday for assisting al-Shabab fighters who attacked a university and killed 148 students and staff in 2015.
Tanzanian national Rashid Charles Mberesero was given life imprisonment while Kenyans Mohammed Abikar and Hassan Edin Hassan were jailed for 41 years each.
Judge Francis Andayi said the three were members of the Somalia-based armed group who planned and executed the Garissa University attack.
Four fighters entered the institution in Garissa, a county bordering Somalia, on the morning of April 2, 2015, and opened fire with automatic weapons.
The bloody siege, which took hours to end, finally came to a halt after all four gunmen were killed. Security officials in the East African nation were criticised for taking too long to respond to the attack.
“I am very happy to hear about the sentencing,” said Rachel Gikonya, a sociology student at the university when the attack happened. She was wounded and lost her ability to walk.
“It was the worst day of my life and I pray attackers in other cases will be prosecuted and brought to justice.”
In January, one suspect was acquitted after the court found no evidence connecting him to the attack. Last month, another suspect was also cleared of involvement.
Wednesday’s sentences were a warning to anyone thinking of providing any kind of help to al-Shabaab, said Tabitha Mwangi, head of the security programme at Nairobi’s Centre for International and Security Affairs.
“This verdict sets precedence for future cases because al-Shabaab has been shown that Kenyan law enforcement agencies have the capability and will to carry out effective investigations within a short time,” Mwangi told Al Jazeera.
“The wait period might seem long but the scope of investigations is deep as the prosecutors had to prove beyond reasonable doubt.”
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, which led to the institution’s temporary closure. The university later reopened.
Kenya has been a victim of al-Shabaab attacks that have killed at least 300 people over the last five years.
The latest was an attack on a Nairobi hotel complex in January that killed 21 people, plus five al-Shabab fighters.
The DusitD2 hotel attack echoed a 2013 assault that killed 67 people at the Westgate mall in the same district.
Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has launched a number of other attacks across the country in recent years targeting churches, as well as planting land mines along the Kenya-Somalia border.
The Garissa University attack was the worst on Kenyan soil since the 1998 US embassy bombing.