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Mall siege survivors recount harrowing ordeal

Kenyans who were inside the Westgate mall in Nairobi give first-hand accounts of deadly attacks by al-Shabab.

Last Modified: 27 Sep 2013 12:48
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A Westgate mall survivor receives medical treatment for a bullet wound [James Reinl/Al Jazeera]

Nairobi, Kenya - Funerals were held across Nairobi on Thursday for the victims of the Westgate mall siege, where Kalashnikov-toting attackers killed more than 60 shoppers in what they say was revenge for Kenya’s war against al-Shabab rebels in Somalia.

As forensics experts scoured the rubble for clues and police interrogated suspects, Al Jazeera spoke to some of the people who were inside the high-end shopping centre on an ill-fated Saturday afternoon.

Benard Mulwa, 31, Kenyan public relations consultant

It was just another Saturday. I was driving into Westgate when we heard a gunshot. Then another. Then intense firing for several minutes. People were running and screaming. I jumped from the car and hid in a flower bed. The security guards ran off as four men approached, wearing Arafat-style scarves and bullet belts. They shot a security guard right through the head. That’s when the second gunman aimed at me.

There was a loud bang. I didn’t realise I was shot in the leg until 15 minutes later, when police told us to get out of there and I stood up. There was blood on my legs. They took me away in a car. The man who targeted me was extremely cold. I’ve never seen a face so cold. You couldn’t place an emotion on him. They were confident. They weren’t perturbed. I don’t know where this kind of human being comes from. It’s a sight I don’t want to remember, but I keep seeing these images in my head.

Peggy Wambua, 37, Kenyan administrative attache

I almost never go to Westgate, but this weekend I was shopping for a birthday present with my two sons. We heard a loud explosion and gunshots. We ran into Woolworths and hid behind a pillar. Somebody locked the shop door. My son could see through the window at the legs of the attackers walking past, wearing those Somali trousers and carrying AK47s.

We were hiding for about five hours before we were evacuated by a group of 30 security guys, who formed a human wall to protect us. We walked through broken glass, blood and tear gas that was stinging our eyes. At one point, they started firing again. The air was heavy with death and evil. You could smell it.

I feel so lucky we got out. Other people are in hospital or lost loved ones. Even the devil is not this cruel. I can’t imagine they have a heart that beats. They spray bullets on innocent children who don’t know good or bad. They are less than animals. I have anger inside and it makes me feel negatively about the Islamic religion. I hope they suffer in hell.

Mughal Kadeer, 64, Kenyan businessman

It was my birthday and my wife and I visited the mall for treats. We were driving in the basement parking when we heard the first bullets and grenade blasts. I tried to drive up the ramp, but it was blocked by cars that had been shot. We got out of the car. The attackers threw a grenade at us that went right under the engine of my car. It blew so hard and burst the engine, but my car is a big Nissan Patrol and it took the impact.

My wife was thrown about 10 feet. Shrapnel went through her stomach, spine and ankles. It hit my right forearm and right leg. I tried to help her, but I was covered in oil and slipping over. I struggled and helped her away. We hid in the basement and later armed police got us to an ambulance.

At hospital, my wife had four hours of surgery. I needed stitches. At the hospital, we saw small children and people hurt so badly. I was full of anger. They attacked innocent people and they should be punished. I’m a Muslim and this has nothing to do with Islam. The Quran says you shouldn't even kill a fly.

Caesar Bwore, 44, Kenyan businessmen

My company runs a bungee-jump trampoline that was beside the children’s cooking competition on the second floor parking, where most of the fatalities occurred. My staff said two guys of Somali-origin approached, threw a grenade and opened fire. They were talking while they were gunning people down.

They said that they didn’t shoot women and children and told the women and children to stand up. When the women and children stood up, they started shooting again. They said the people had refused to convert to Islam. They asked: “Where is [Kenyan president] Uhuru [Kenyatta] to help you now?” I was outside the mall trying to contact my five staff - it was difficult and frustrating. One of them jumped off the second floor parking and hid in the generator area. Another was on the ground floor. He came out of the toilets and saw one of the attackers shooting people.

These men must have been brainwashed. They don’t think like you and me. They have a warped, twisted reasoning. They are not Muslims. They are dangerous criminals who use religion to create divisions. 

Vijay Jotangia, 52, Kenyan-Indian property dealer

I was in Barclays bank when we heard noises and a blast. Security guards immediately closed the doors and we went back into the staff area. Of all the areas in Westgate, the bank was safe. Their motive wasn’t to rob the bank - they had other intentions. There were 40 of us. Everyone was on their mobile phones, watching footage from upstairs and sharing information.

The shooters were saying that if you were Muslim, they would spare you. But they would give people a script to read in Arabic to check they weren’t cheating. There were explosions and the building was shaking. Commandoes rescued us at about 7pm. We walked through broken glass and blood. Past a dead body, a bullet through his head, and two other bodies on the other side. These people are insane. They are not human beings. They must have been brainwashed since childhood.

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

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