One killed, 150 hurt in Kenya stampede after power cable blast sparks fears of terror attack

NAIROBI (AFP) - A panicked student was killed and 150 more were hurt in a stampede on Sunday when an electrical blast sparked fears of a new Islamist attack on a Kenyan university campus.

Some students jumped from as high as the fifth floor of a hostel at the University of Nairobi campus after the pre-dawn explosion, vice-chancellor Peter Mbithi said.

"It was total chaos because we thought now it is our turn after Garissa," student Michael Njuguna was quoted by Kenyan media as saying.

A shocked Kenya is on edge after the April 2 attack by Somalia's Shebab insurgents on Garissa university that killed 148 people, almost all of them students.

Education Minister Jacob Kaimenyi said Sunday's explosion occurred at around 5:30 am while students were sleeping on the university's Kikuyu campus about 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the capital.

"A power cable blew up outside the student hostel. The hostel itself was not affected, but the students thought it was an attack," said Mbithi.

"Some students jumped out," and "there was also a stampede", said Mbithi. "One student died after jumping from the fifth floor."

Student Spencer Kimani said he jumped out of a window, but only sustained minor injuries.

"The blast was so loud, I had to jump out of bed and run," he said.

About 150 were injured, mostly lightly, while 20 remain in hospital for treatment.

"There is no cause for alarm but we can understand their fears after the recent incident," Nairobi police chief Benson Kibue said, confirming that a power cable explosion was behind the incident.

The attack in Garissa, a town near the border with Somalia, was the deadliest on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and followed the 2013 Westgate shopping mall massacre in the capital.

"We have put in place mechanisms to protect our institutions of higher learning and there shouldn't be panic or fear around the country," Vice President William Ruto said.

Ruto had said in a speech Saturday that the Garissa attacks would be a watershed for Kenya.

"The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa," Ruto said.

The Kenyan government has faced intense criticism for failing to prevent the Garissa massacre and for what critics say is a bungled response.

Kenya has responded by asking the UN refugee agency to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees by July, a move criticised by the UN refugee agency and rights groups.

"Instead of making refugees scapegoats, Kenya - which is legally obliged to protect them until they can go home safely - should find and prosecute those responsible for the Garissa massacre," said Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch's Africa deputy director.

Somali refugees in Kenya number around 450,000, most of them at Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, the UNHCR said.

The Kenyan government previously sought the closure of Dadaab after Shebab's attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in which at least 67 people dead, saying the camp was a breeding ground for Islamist militants.

In another response, Kenya also last week shut down 14 money transfer companies - vital for impoverished Somalia - over their suspected links to Shebab.

But aid agencies warned that the closure would mainly affect the poorest Somalis who depend on financial aid from relatives living in Kenya.

Authorities have so far detained five Kenyans and a Tanzanian suspected of connections to the Garissa university massacre.

They also identified one of the four gunmen killed during the Garissa siege as a Kenyan of Somali ethnicity, highlighting the Shebab's ability to recruit in the country.

Shebab militants, who are fighting to overthrow Somalia's internationally-backed government, fled their power base in Somalia's capital Mogadishu in 2011, and continue to battle the Africa Union force, AMISOM, sent to drive them out.

The group has carried out a string of revenge attacks in neighbouring nations, including Kenya and Uganda in response to their participation in the AU force.

Islamist attacks have killed more than 400 people in Kenya since the 2013 Westgate Mall attack.

In June 2014, Shebab militants massacred 100 people in night-time raids on villages along the Kenyan coast.

In November that year, they executed 28 bus passengers in cold blood near Mandera, an area bordering Somalia. The following month, they killed 36 workers in a quarry in the same region.