NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenyans confronted by armed Islamic extremists should fight back and avoid being killed "like cockroaches," a senior police official said Thursday at a Nairobi morgue holding the bodies of some of the 148 people who died in last week's attack on a college.
Some Kenyans, however, said it was difficult to expect civilians to resist militants and that it was the government's responsibility to protect them. The Kenyan government has faced criticism for an allegedly slow response by security forces to the April 2 attack on Garissa University College in eastern Kenya.
Many of those who died likely had no chance or any means to fight back effectively. The assailants were heavily armed and, according to survivors, were swift and ruthless while gunning down unarmed, terrified students.
"If something happens like that, fight back," Pius Masai Mwachi, a Kenyan police superintendent, said to journalists.
Kim Kemboi, a former student leader in Nairobi, said the term "cockroaches" is insensitive because it is a reminder of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when killers used the word as a slur to describe the Tutsis they slaughtered.
But Kemboi described fighting back as an option, saying he recently viewed a video produced by the city of Houston, Texas that recommends people under assault try to run, or hide if fleeing is not possible. As a last resort, it says people should fight an attacker by whatever means they can.
The four gunmen died when an elite team of police commandoes entered the campus.
Any Kenyans who fall into the hands of militants should not allow themselves to be divided along ethnic and religious lines, "like what happened in the Garissa attack," Mwachi also said.
Survivors say gunmen from the al-Shabab extremist group targeted Christian students for killing after separating them from Muslims, though there were also many accounts of indiscriminate shooting.
"If you are in the hands of terrorists, free yourselves as soon as possible," said Mwachi, suggesting that people shout and be disruptive until help arrives. "Don't just be killed like cockroaches."
Boniface Mwangi, a human rights activist, said "those young kids died a very brave death" at Garissa.
"It's not the work of the citizens to protect themselves," Mwangi said, citing a "social contract" that requires the government to safeguard its people.
On Thursday, students in the western Kenyan city of Kisumu demonstrated for better security on campuses. One protest sign referred to the strife in Somalia, where al-Shabab is based, with the slogan: "Somalia is safer than Kenya."
Mwachi, the police official, told The Associated Press that some people might die while trying to fight any attackers, but more could survive if they thwart people who won't negotiate and plan to die themselves.
"There are some situations whereby you must do something more than the norm," said Mwachi, a leader of Kenya's national disaster agency. "You don't have to wait for somebody to kill you."
At the morgue, relatives of those killed waited in nearby tents to collect bodies for transport in coffins to hometowns and villages for burial. Framed photographs of some of the young victims were displayed outside a morgue door.
Phanice Lijodi's cousin, 23-year-old Jacob Bushuru, died at the Garissa college, where he was studying business management.
Lijodi said it would be hard to fight killers armed with "special guns" and possibly explosives.
"It's a good idea but not applicable here in Kenya," she said.