Gunman stormed into a crowded mall in Nairobi, Kenya and killed at least 59 innocent shoppers and injured over 150 in one of the most terrifying attacks in East Africa since Al-Qaida in 1998. The attack has been called a two-pronged, complex assault. The gunmen formed two groups before storming into the mall; they entered at the same time but from different floors with guns blazing.
This was the unfortunate experience people encountered at The Westgate Mall on Saturday. The Westgate is a mall that symbolizes the rising prosperity of Kenya. It is a fancy, five-story edifice often frequented by upper class Kenyans. A place where they go to buy foods like sushi and yogurt cups from expensive little shops.
This particular mall is one of Nairobi’s most luxurious shopping centers complete with glass elevators and it houses some of the most expensive shops in town. This is the place to go whether you want to catch a good movie or for a quick power lunch.
Like most malls, Saturday is one of its busier days and of course this was no secret to the masked gunmen that targeted the mall. American officials have long believed that places like these were the perfect targets for terrorists. The main and highly populated café at The Westgate is owned by Israelis and located on the ground floor.
African Union official, Fred Ngoga Gateretse, happened to be having coffee at the café when the gunfire began. He said it was about 12 noon when he heard two deafening shots. He immediately hit the floor as he watched eight masked gunmen shooting at shoppers and firing back at Kenyan officers. Kenyan police were shooting from a balcony while panicking onlookers were trying to find cover. Gateretse said it was very apparent that the men, who had scarves twisted over their faces to cover their identity, were trained shooters.
Shoppers were in a state of panic and shock as parents scrambled to cover their children. People were hiding behind mannequins and diving into ventilation shafts in hopes of finding safety while separate teams of gunmen stormed quickly through the mall shooting people in the head.
Many of the witnesses say they heard the attackers telling the Muslims to run for cover as they continued to kill other shoppers. They said the gunmen were throwing grenades and using AK-47 and G-3 assault rifles. Several witnesses said they were not all males but at least one of the assailants was a woman.
The masked men who are believed to be connected to a Somali terrorist group left the floors of The Westgate covered with blood. As law enforcement entered the mall in attempts of locating the assailants they had to leap over dead bodies lying in the corridors.
An Islamist militant squad called the Shabab took ownership of the attack. They said it was payback for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia. They stated that Kenya will get no peace until they remove their military out of Somalia. This message was delivered in a radio address according to the Shabab’s spokeman named Ali Mohamoud Rage.
They also took to Twitter to send out a multitude of jaunting messages bragging about the attack. Twitter suspended the account on Saturday evening but of course another one was established.
President Uhuru Kenyatta called these terroristic men cowards. He added that Kenya would remain brave and invincible just as the lions are on their coat of arms. He also stated that he lost some close family members as a result of the attack but he didn’t say who they were.
By Saturday night several of the attackers had been cornered on the third floor of the mall by Kenyan commandos. At least one wounded gunman had been caught and later died in a hospital.
A standoff with the attackers, who were reported to be heavily armed and holding many hostages, continued early Sunday morning.
In addition to the 59 people reported killed, including women and children, more than 150 were wounded; ranging in age from 2 to 78-years old.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)