Survivors recall terror in Nairobi mall

Nairobi's Westgate Mall, usually filled with foreigners and affluent Kenyans, echoed to deadly terrorist gunfire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 3:08am

Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, part Israeli-owned and often crowded with well-to-do Kenyans, expatriates, diplomats and United Nations workers, has long been seen as a soft target for Islamic militants.

The sprawling multi-storey complex, which opened in 2007, is known for its shops carrying trendy foreign brands as well as its friendly cafes and restaurants. Their terraces, however, are adjacent to a road along which cars can pass without security checks.

Entering the mall is normally easy, involving a cursory body check, sometimes with a small metal detector.

Alerts issued intermittently by foreign embassies over the past two years have regularly listed Nairobi's shopping malls as possible targets - but the crowds have not stayed away.

A Western intelligence source said: "It was only a question of time until a mall was targeted."

Kenneth Kerich, who was shopping when the attack happened, described scenes of panic.

"I suddenly heard gunshots and saw everyone running around, so we lay down. I saw two people who were lying down and bleeding, I think they were hit by bullets," he said after he managed to escape the carnage.

Eighteen-year-old survivor, Umar Ahmed said: "I was at Westgate Mall rooftop at the parking, and all of sudden I heard screams and gunshots all over the place," Ahmed recounted.

"I got scared. I tried to run down the stairs and saw someone running towards the top, I ran back and hid behind one of the cars," he said from his hospital bed where he was nursing burns to his hands and chest.

Ahmed said he lay on the ground and played dead as one of the gunmen approached him.

"Thankfully he turned back," he said. "After a while, the police came and we were able to be evacuated."

Mall worker Zipporah Wanjiru, said: "They were shooting indiscriminately, it was like a movie seeing people sprayed with bullets like that."

Waiter Titus Alede said it was a "miracle from God" that he managed to escape the approaching gunmen.

"I was serving a client and these men came. They were not after money, as they were shooting people without asking for anything. I remember them saying, 'You killed our people in Somalia, it is our time to pay you back'," he recounted.

Alede risked his life and leapt from the second storey of the mall and "the death that I saw coming".

"It was a miracle from God," he said of his escape.

Another survivor of the attack, who only gave his name as Jay, said he witnessed the gunmen round up shoppers, ask them questions - possibly to find out if they were Muslims - and then execute them.

"They spoke something that seemed like Arabic or Somali," said the man. "I saw people being executed after being asked to say something."

Another survivor, Cecilia, said she spent a cold, terrifying night hiding underneath a car in the parking area before she was rescued by Kenyan soldiers.

"When we tried to run they started shooting, so I ran to the basement. I stayed in the basement under a car," she said.

"There was a young man with a gun and he was really shooting as we were trying to get out. There were a few people who got injured and even some died, so I went under a vehicle."

She emerged from the mall - shocked, shivering but safe - some 20 hours later.

A spokesman at MP Shah Hospital said shortly after the incident that more than 100 casualties were brought to his facility.

"Our bed capacity is full, we cannot accommodate any other person."



August 7, 1998: A car-bomb attack outside the US embassy in Nairobi kills 213 and wounds about 5,000. Most are passers-by or workers in nearby buildings. Forty-four people including 12 Americans are killed in the embassy itself.

A nearly simultaneous explosion of a booby-trapped tanker truck outside the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and wounds 70, all passers-by. Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for both attacks.

November 28, 2002: A car-bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel kills 12 Kenyans, three Israelis and three suicide bombers near the port of Mombasa. Almost simultaneously two missiles are aimed at an Israeli plane with 261 passengers on board but they miss. Al-Qaeda later claims responsibility for both attacks.

June 11, 2007: A suicide bomber is the only fatality in an attack in Nairobi that wounds 41.

June 13, 2010: Two blasts during a gathering in Nairobi of Christian evangelists kill six and wound nearly 80.

December 20, 2010: Three die in a grenade attack on a bus in Nairobi. Police suspect al-Shabab.

October 24, 2011: Grenade attacks in Nairobi kill one person and wound more than 30. Investigators suspect al-Shabab.

January 1, 2012: Five die in a grenade attack and shoot-out in a bar in Garissa in the northeast.

March 10, 2012: Nine people die and about 60 are injured in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus terminal. Al-Shabab deny involvement.

June 24, 2012: Three die and dozens are injured in an attack on a bar in Mombasa.

July 1, 2012: An attack on two churches in Garissa claims 18 lives and wounds 40 near the refugee camp of Dadaab where four foreign aid workers were kidnapped in June and a Kenyan driver was killed. The aid workers are released on July 2.

March 3, 2013: Twelve people including six policemen are killed in attacks against security forces on the Kenyan coast ahead of general elections. The "Mombasa Republican Council" fighting for secession of the mainly Muslim coastal region is suspected.

Agence France-Presse