Heal­ing at mall-tragedy site

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Robyn Dixon In a large bowl; gen­tly mix spinach, ap­ple, cel­ery and pecans. Add dress­ing and toss.

NAIROBI, Kenya — It was the site of a mass killing and a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment. But when the West­gate mall re­opened here Satur­day morn­ing, shop­pers and politi­cians poured through the se­cu­rity scan­ner into the glit­ter­ing, light-filled in­te­rior in a rare mo­ment of hope and clo­sure.

Ben Mulwa, 34, a sur­vivor of the Septem­ber 2013 ter­ror­ist at­tack in the Kenyan cap­i­tal that left at least 67 peo­ple dead, was among the first five to es­cape af­ter hid­ing in a flower bed as four ter­ror­ists walked by him. Their calm, ex­pres­sion­less faces haunt him to this day.

He was one of the first to re­turn Satur­day, com­ing, he said, “to fin­ish that busi­ness that brought me to West­gate mall,” a lunch meet­ing with a friend.

“To­day is an in­spi­ra­tional mo­ment for us,” Mulwa said. “Many peo­ple didn’t make it, as we did. To­day, we are ex­cited be­cause we are back on our feet, and we can con­vince the world that ter­ror­ism is not bring­ing us down any time soon.”

The as­sault was car­ried out by the four gun­men who passed Mulwa by. The mil­i­tants from the So­mali group alShabaab launched a siege that dragged on for days, with ini­tial fears that their num­bers might be greater and dozens of peo­ple might be held hostage. The gun­men freed those who could re­cite a Mus­lim pro­fes­sion of faith and shot down oth­ers, in­clud­ing chil­dren.

The at­tack un­der­scored how ter­ror­ists could in­flict a dev­as­tat­ing toll on a soft civil­ian tar­get, with­out the need for sui­cide vests, ex­plo­sives or bombs.

An al-Shabaab at­tack on a univer­sity in the north­ern Kenya town of Garissa in April used the same tem­plate, with a small group of gun­men storm­ing stu­dent res­i­dences, shoot­ing Chris­tians and even taunt­ing par­ents and loved ones on their vic­tims’ cell­phones. At least 148 died in the as­sault, which came af­ter author­i­ties failed to heed protests about poor se­cu­rity on the cam­pus.

The West­gate mall, once Nairobi’s most elite shop­ping spot, was closed af­ter the 2013 at­tack. Its hulk­ing empty frame con­veyed not only the coun­try’s se­cu­rity fail­ures in its bat­tle against al- Shabaab but was a grim re­minder of other un­pleas­ant mo­ments: po­lice of­fi­cers loot­ing stores left empty af­ter the gun bat­tles; author­i­ties of­fer­ing mis­lead­ing state­ments — some called them down­right lies — dur­ing the cri­sis; the squab­bling be­tween arms of the se­cu­rity forces that stymied the re­sponse.

Mulwa, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions con­sul­tant, had been driv­ing into the mall’s rooftop park­ing garage when the first shots came. He aban­doned his car, blocked from be­hind, its mo­tor still run­ning.

“The shots went on so in­tensely that we had to get out of our cars,” he said. “I went to hide in a flower bed on the way to the rooftop. While I was hid­ing, I saw the ter­ror­ists walk through the en­trance. They shot at me. I re­mem­ber the par­tic­u­lar shot that grazed my head. The bullet ric­o­cheted off the wall and hit my leg.

“They shot the se­cu­rity guard who was right in front of me. He died in front of me be­cause he was shot in the head.”

The faces of the killers are still locked in Mulwa’s mind.

“Their faces were so cold. They seemed to be en­joy­ing ex­actly what they were do­ing. They didn’t seem to be per­turbed at all. Their faces, I’ll never for­get for the rest of my life.”

Josephine Kinotei, 34, was work­ing at the Healthy U food out­let in the Nakumatt su­per­mar­ket and was trapped for hours in a wash­room be­fore Kenyan forces res­cued her and oth­ers.

“We were ter­ri­fied,” she said. “We couldn’t leave be­cause peo­ple were still shoot­ing. We started pray­ing and pray­ing. We prayed a lot.”

30 ml

30 ml

30 ml

medium ap­ple, thinly sliced

cel­ery, chopped

toasted pecans, chopped

honey di­jon mus­tard dress­ing

2 tbsp

2 tbsp

2 tbsp

WADE PAYNE FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

FBI agents work the scene of a deadly shoot­ing.

BEN CURTIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A se­cu­rity guard pa­trols out­side the re­opened West­gate mall Satur­day.

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