NAIROBI, Kenya – A Tanzanian terrorist Rashid Mberesero who was serving a life sentence over roles in the Garissa University attack that left 148 people dead in 2015 was found dead in his cell Sunday.
Authorities at Kamiti Maximum Prison said the man may have committed suicide, based on preliminary investigations.
“Mberesero committed suicide using a piece of the blanket he was using in his cell 24 at Block H,” an official said.
His body was found dangling from a metal window grill. The piece of the blanket was tied around his neck. It was discovered shortly after 3 pm after the day’s last meal.
Mberesero had appealed his life sentence in a case pending at the Milimani Law Courts.
Mberesero was sentenced alongside two others to terms ranging from 41 years to life in prison for abetting the massacre of 148 people by Somali jihadists at Garissa University in northeast Kenya in 2015.
Judge Francis Andayi said he considered the “helpless” nature of the victims — mostly students, rounded up at dawn on their campus by gunmen and shot point-blank — when determining sentences for the trio.
“In this attack, many lives were lost and members of the public left in a panic,” he told the conspirators, who were present in the courtroom as were family members of the victims.
He sentenced Mberesero, a Tanzanian, to life for his involvement in the attack. Two Kenyans, Mohamed Ali Abikar and Hassan Aden Hassan, were each given 41 years.
Mberesero was given the longer sentence as he was arrested at the scene of the massacre and could not explain why he was there, the court was told.
Terry Korir, who said she lost a brother in the attack, said the trio should have been hanged.
“They will never understand what the victims went through and the gap they left in their families,” she said after the sentences were handed down.
Kenya has the death penalty but has not executed a prisoner since 1987.
The trio was found guilty last month of being members of Al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda that carried out the attack.
Prosecutors showed the court evidence that the three had been in contact with the four gunmen ahead of the slaughter, especially by telephone.
Four Al-Shabaab shooters stormed the students’ residence hall firing their weapons on April 2, 2015, before separating the victims according to their religion.
Muslims were allowed to go but the rest were slaughtered, most of them Christians.
It was the second-bloodiest terror attack in Kenya’s history, surpassed only by al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998 that killed 213 people.
– ‘Let them rot’ –
Duncan Kandie, who said his sister was killed, said the conspirators were no different to those who pulled the trigger.
“They killed her and they killed many others,” he said.
“These are terrorists and terrorists have no place in society. Let them rot in jail.”
A fourth person, Sahal Diriye Hussein, was acquitted, according to the court’s verdict, issued on June 19.
All four gunmen were killed by security forces.
In 2016, the operation’s suspected ringleader, Mohamed Mohamud, also named “Kuno,” a former professor at a Koranic school in Garissa, was killed in southwestern Somalia.
According to the Shabaab, he was killed by “US crusaders”.
The Shabaab were chased out of Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong African Union peace-enforcement mission, AMISOM.
They nevertheless control swathes of the countryside and remain the key threat to peace in Somalia.
The group is fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
It has also carried a string of attacks in neighbouring Kenya, which has troops in AMISOM.
In September 2013, the Shabaab claimed responsibility for a raid on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people over a four-day siege.