As part of Al Jazeera’s coverage marking the first anniversary of the deadly siege on the Westgate shopping mall in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, we have obtained exclusive images and stories from photographer Kabir Dhanji who was inside the mall at the time of the attack. He visits people he photographed on that day to find out how the incident has affected their lives.
“I was on my way to have my camera serviced, as is the norm in-between assignments, and had to go past Westgate to get to the camera shop. Normally, I’d never carry a camera: This is home, where I grew up, and not an assignment.”
On Saturday September 21, 2013, Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, came under attack and was held under siege for five days before the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were able to take back the building.
“The attack had already begun by the time I got there. We had no idea what was happening. Early reports from the outside said that it was a bank robbery gone wrong. These things happen often enough, so there was no reason to think otherwise. It was the first in a long chain of bad information that never got better as the truth slipped further and further away. Eventually, the truth got lost and there was little more that was known other than what was seen through the pictures and footage.
“I spent almost 12 hours inside Westgate Mall on that day, helping as many people as I could and simultaneously documenting what had taken place as we reported what was unfolding. It was a complicated scene to understand, and challenging to work inside, only because of what wasn’t known: We didn’t know who the bad guys were, we didn’t know how many they were, we didn’t know where they were, we didn’t know why they were doing this, and nobody knew what their end game was.
“The people below were all present on that fateful day. In an event so harrowing, with such brutal scenes, reality got suspended somewhere that morning and this acid nightmare took over; everybody got trapped and was … is looking for a way out.
“With the truth becoming so largely unavailable, the questions continue to mount and the theories grow thicker with the days. This is an attempt to understand the people who were affected by what happened as they try to come to terms with it and understand the same. These are pictures of what happened during that siege and what happened afterwards: What the world looks like in the aftermath.”