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Saturday, 23 January 2021

Kenya massacre mall reopens in capital

AFP , Saturday 18 Jul 2015
File photo of armed police guide a woman carrying a child to safety as they hunt gunmen at Westgate mall. (Photo:Reuters)
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Kenya's Westgate shopping mall reopened for business on Saturday, almost two years after Somali Islamists stormed in and massacred 67 shoppers and staff in four days of carnage.

The complex, Nairobi's most upmarket shopping centre and a magnet for the east African nation's growing middle class and expatriates, was badly damaged in the assault by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels and has undergone months of renovation.

Around 50 shoppers -- some of them survivors of the massacre -- queued to be the first to pass through newly-installed metal detectors at the main entrance, after Nairobi governor Evans Kidero and Atul Shah, owner of the main regional supermarket chain Nakumatt, declared the mall back in business in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"They didn't kill our spirit," Kidero told AFP. "We are resilient, we are positive, we always look forward, as demonstrated by the number of people who have come here today."

"Nairobi is going to boom," he said, adding next weekend's visit of US President Barack Obama was also "a vote a confidence for our city and our country."

By midday, the mall had filled up with hundreds of shoppers. With no memorial of any kind for those who died, fresh coats of paint and the bullet holes filled in, there was no reminder of the horror of September 2014.

"Today we are excited because we are back on our feet, and we can convince the world that terrorism is not bringing us down," said Ben Mulla, a 34-year-old communications contractor and a siege survivor.

But he said he still had painful memories of the attack.

"I was coming to have a business lunch. The shooting was intense, and I went to hide in a flowerbed. I saw four terrorists... they shot at me and the ricochet from the wall went in my leg. They shot a security guard right in front of me," he recounted.

"They were young men. They were emotionless. They seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. Their faces I will never forget for the rest of my life."



The Shebab said they attacked Westgate, which is partly Israeli-owned, as retaliation for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia as part of an African Union force supporting the internationally-backed Mogadishu government.

Since Westgate, the Shebab have continued to strike on Kenyan soil, with an even bigger attack in April when another four suicide attackers massacred 148 people in Kenya's northeastern Garissa University, most of them students.

The militants have also stepped up their efforts to recruit disaffected Kenyan Muslims from the impoverished northeast and along the Muslim-majority coastal region.

The attacks have badly damaged Kenya's economy, with the country no longer so widely seen as a bastion of stability in the region. Tourism to Kenya, famed for its national parks, wildlife and Indian Ocean beaches, has also taken a major hit.

Returning for work at one of Westgate's coffee shops, Rachael Logilan, 23, insisted she felt safe in the renovated mall -- despite her memories of being shot at and then spending five hours hiding in a storeroom as the gunmen hunted down their victims.

"Of course it was a trauma. For three months I had bad dreams," said Logilan, one of just a tiny number of siege survivors who have taken up their old jobs. "It's a nice place. You can meet different people. I feel secure."

Kenyan Muslim Hussain Ibrahim, a resident of Nairobi's ethnic Somali district of Eastleigh, went to the mall with his four young children to celebrate Eid.

"We were very sad when it happened. Islam does not propagate terrorism," he said, but complained that Kenya's response to the terror threat -- which has included mass round-ups of ethnic Somalis and alleged extra-judicial killings -- was isolating Kenya's Muslims.

"It's not getting any better, there are more and more attacks in northeastern Kenya. The government of Kenya did a mistake, they radicalised Muslim people. We are being pushed into a corner."

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