NEW DELHI: 147 people were killed and 79 people injured after gunmen stormed a Kenyan college campus.

Militant group Al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack on the Moi campus at Garissa University College near the border with Somalia. In addition to those killed "587 students have been evacuated from Garissa University College, 79 injured. All students have been accounted for," The Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre said on Twitter.

The death toll is the highest in a terror attack on Kenyan soil since an attack on the US embassy in 1998 that killed more than 200 people.

"It is a very sad day for Kenya," Interior Ministry Joseph Nkaissery said following the attack. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said, "This is a moment for everyone throughout the country to be vigilant as we continue to confront and defeat our enemies.”

Who is Al Shabaab?

Al Shabaab rarely grabs international headlines although the group is brutally active across Somalia and Kenya. Recent attacks include an attack on Central Hotel in Mogadishu just a day earlier on February 20, an attack that killed 36 quarry workers in northeast Kenya in December last year, an attack on a bus in near Mandera that killed 28 in November, and an attack on a restaurant popular with foreigners in downtown Djibouti that killed 20 people in May.

The group however, is internationally known for its attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi in September 2013, which it said was in retribution for the Kenyan government’s decision to send troops into Somalia to fight alongside government forces.

Al Shabaab declared jihad on Kenya as far back as 2010 on allegations that the Kenyan government was training Somali troops, which Kenya denied. This threat was heightened post 2011 when the Kenyan government sent troops as part of a United Nations backed African Union force that pushed Al Shabaab militants out of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu in 2011, and out of the vital port of Kismayo in 2012. The port has been a vital asset for the militants, enabling supplies to reach areas under the group’s control and providing taxes for its operations.

After 2011, Al Shabaab’s influence in Somalia was reduced from control over large swathes of the country’s central and southern areas, including its capital, to limited rural areas. Kenyan troops continue to serve as part of the African Union force, playing a pivotal role in capturing areas from Al Shabaab’s control.

The Al Shabaab group carries out attacks within Somalia often. In March last year, the militants led a suicide raid on a hotel in the southern town of Buuloburde, killing a number of people days after the town was recaptured from the militants. The attack followed an assault on a military convoy near the capital city, killing four Somali soldiers. In February, 14 people were killed as the group attacked the Somali presidential palace although Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was unharmed.

Al Shabaab’s control of parts of Somalia’s countryside and smaller towns is being used by the militants as a launchpad to plan and execute attacks in the country and beyond Somalia’s borders, examples being the attacks in Kenya. In addition to Kenya, the group has specifically targeted Uganda, also a neighbouring country that has contributed fighters to the African Union force. The deadliest attack in Uganda by the militant group killed 64 people in Kampala as they watched the World Cup final in 2010.

The group, which has links to Al Qaeda, has denounced the 2012 election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, which was backed by a UN-brokered peace process, as a foreign plot to control Somalia. The group’s rise to influence can be located within the political context of Somalia, which has lacked an effective national government for over twenty years, making the group’s promise of security appealing to the country’s population. The Somali government maintains that the group’s presence is on the decline and the militants are on the verge of being defeated. A Twitter account run by the President’s office posted, “Don't be fooled by this media spectacular [sic]. This is another act of desperation from a dying animal,” following the attack on the palace.

Is Al Shabaab a “dying animal”? These latest incidents prove otherwise.