Healing at mall-tragedy site
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.”
medium apple, thinly sliced
toasted pecans, chopped
honey dijon mustard dressing
FBI agents work the scene of a deadly shooting.
A security guard patrols outside the reopened Westgate mall Saturday.