|

Nairobi mall visit becomes a trip to hell

AFP-JIJI

“You’re a very bad man,” a brave 4-year-old British boy told one of the Islamist gunmen in the bloody siege of a Nairobi mall, one of the many poignant tales emerging from the attacks that have horrified the world.

It was a Saturday and Elliot Prior was shopping with his mother and sister. Elsewhere in the teeming upscale Westgate Mall, Satpal Singh was having a meeting at the Java Coffee House. On the rooftop, dozens of preschool children wearing aprons chopped happily in a cooking competition hosted by several popular radio personalities.

Arnold Mwaghacho was hard at work at a burger shop and South African Charlene Waigongo was waiting for her change after a morning spent with a girlfriend on a cafe terrace.

At around midday, the mall buzz of chatter, shrieking children and Muzak was shattered by the sound of gunfire and explosions. Security footage shows about a dozen attackers storming the mall from both the front and rear, armed with grenades, rifles and pistols and loaded with ammo.

“We started hearing gunshots and people running and we realized that people were already on the terrace shooting,” Waigongo, 13-year resident of Kenya, told South Africa’s Eyewitness News. “We started running inside. I fell down. My girlfriend and I got separated. I lost my shoes. I just started running. People were being shot around me.”

The group ran into the basement but the gunmen quickly arrived and opened fire. They then tried to go up to the roof, however the attackers were blocking that route as well. Waigongo said that even after they managed to sneak out, her group came under fire from the gunmen on the roof.

The gunmen ordered people to recite Islamic creed. Those who could not were shot.

Singh, a member of Nairobi’s large Indian-Asian community, said people were running, falling and trampling on each other to escape the gunfire.

“I got shot at four times, twice by a young man as I was trying to help someone who had been injured and twice again by police officers who thought we were terrorists when we were asking for help from the terrace of the mall,” he said.

He and about 30 people first hid inside a bookshop, but approaching gunmen prompted them to barricade themselves on a roof terrace with “heavy construction equipment.”

They yelled for help to people outside but police mistook them for terrorists and opened fire. Eventually, they were rescued by police via a fire escape. Shocked people of all ages and races ran from the mall, crawling along walls to escape stray bullets, escaping through ventilation ducts or hiding under piles of carpets, while several played dead.

At the burger shop, Arnold Mwaghacho was wounded in the attack.

“I took the blood that I was covered with. I rubbed it on my face so that when they came there, they see, like, I’m dead,” Mwaghacho told ABC News. “So I just lay there. I was just waiting to die.”

Security footage seen by Kenya’s The Standard newspaper showed gunmen blasting toilet doors with gunfire to target those holed up inside.

The children’s cooking show quickly turned into a bloody nightmare as gunmen lobbed two grenades into the crowd.

“The kids were just running around in their little aprons, chopping up. We heard a series of gunshots,” said Aleem Manji, whose radio station East FM was hosting the party.

“We said get down, get down, get down on the floor. And just as we did that, the gunmen tossed a grenade to where we were,” he told CNN, with a patch over his left eye that was injured by shrapnel and glass splinters.

Competition host Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a TV and radio personality who was six months pregnant, was shot dead.

According to Aleem one of the attackers said: “We are from Somalia. We don’t normally kill women and children. But then again, you’ve killed our women and children.”

Describing the rooftop chaos, another host, Kamal Kaur, told the BBC, “The adults were worst — they were animals, they were climbing on top of the kids to jump over the walls.”

While several children were reported killed during the siege, 4-year-old Elliot had a lucky break. Britain’s The Sun tabloid reported that his mother, Amber, a film producer, had stood up when the “terrorists said if any kids were alive in the supermarket they could leave.”

She scooped up two other children — including a wounded 12-year-old whose mother had been murdered — and pushed them outside in a shopping cart.

“Then Elliott argued with them and called them bad men. He was very brave,” his uncle, Alex Coutts, told the daily. Coutts said the attacker handed the children Mars bars and asked for forgiveness.

“Please forgive me,” he said, “we are not monsters.”