As clocks around Kenya hurried towards 12:30 pm on Saturday, September 21, 2013, it was virtually impossible to know that this march forward in time would throw the country into a dark and gloomy period – one that appeared to be endless at a certain point in the Westgate mall.
The pains, loss, anguish, disaster and catastrophe all began when four armed men alighted from a Mitsibushi Sedan and moved to the entrance of Westgate shopping mall, located in the Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi in Kenya.
What was found in the vehicle upon their disembarkment were sim cards which they have been using to communicate with their contacts with and outside Kenya, 20 empty magazine boxes with phones of different lines, according to reports.
Three of the men were also spotted holding grenades. They immediately removed the safety pins, leaving them behind in the car. They subsequently locked the grenade before throwing one towards the entrance and the other two towards the security gate to the upper and lower parking base of the mall. Boom! the attack then began.
Two of them made their way to the first floor. But this was five minutes after shoppers’ attention was drawn to the explosion outside the mall and after they started taking cover for safety.
The assailants, all masked, launched an attack, killing most shoppers on the first floor with their standard AK47 rifles. Many shoppers had to crawl on their belle as gun bullets fly over their heads.
After twenty minutes or thereabouts, news of the attack broke out. But it would take Kenya an hour to realize what shoppers inside Westgate already knew.
The men, who were later identified as al-Shabaab militants, came to fire a volley of bullets at helpless and armless civilians who came around to shop and have fun.
The attack turned out to be a siege which lasted for 4 days, resulting in the deaths of at least 72 victims including 61 civilians, six security personnel, and five attackers. Also recorded were 175 non-fatal injuries and the eventual collapse of three floors of the mall.
Another pivotal day of the four-day siege was Monday 24th, when, at 12:45 pm, a series of gunshots followed by explosions were heard coming from the Westgate shopping mall. Within some minutes later, thick smoke was seen coming out from the lower level of the mall’s parking base. According to the government spokesperson, the smoke was put up by the terrorists as a way to distract security agencies.
Employees and owners of stores in the mall were not allowed to access their shops until on Thursday. Upon entering their shops, they saw their shores have been scattered and looted, losing billions of shillings.
Described as one of the most brutal attacks on Kenyan soil, the terrorists’ invasion of the large-scale shopping mall located in the Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi also claimed the life of President Kenyatta’s family relation. It was glaring during the attacks that they didn’t come to loot Westgate’s treasures or to scare away people but to kill innocent civilians.
The beautiful structures of the Westgate Mall were not spared as the attackers kept shooting sporadically and throwing grenades at will. The picture of the mall before the attack can only be left to the imagination after the attack. All in all, over 200 people were reportedly wounded in the mass shooting.
The Islamist group al-Shabaab has since come out to claim responsibility for the attack, which it characterised as retribution for the Kenyan military’s deployment in Somalia.
The attack came just after the threats from al-Shabaab in late 2011 of attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Linda Nchi, a coordinated military operation in southern Somalia that was launched against the group by the Somali and Kenyan militaries.
One of the worst act of terrorism in Kenya since the US embassy bombing in 1998, the Westgate mall shooting also brought to spotlight many anomalous aspects of Kenya’s security formations, following looting allegations against the army and the mild drama that played out between the police and another security agency at the shooting scene.
The attack period wasn’t only a nightmare for the country, it saw lives of armless Kenyans snuffed out. It was also a period of gallantry, heroism, and a deep of brotherhood, as some patriotic citizens were spotted rendering selfless help to numerous women and children.
While there’s every possibility that the shooters are still at large, many reasons could have helped the fatal attack to thrive, according to security experts.
The fact that Kenya has vast borders, porous official borders, and surrounded by nations that have experienced violent strifes, all played one or two roles in bolstering the attack. Since 2011, Kenya has experienced at least 30 attacks involving grenades or explosive devices – the proliferation of grenades in the country could have given rise to the number of these attacks.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, after the attack, vowed to “hunt down the perpetrators wherever they run”. The four gunmen are named as Abu Baara al-Sudani (a Sudanese national), Khattab al-Kene (a Somali from Mogadishu), Omar Nabhan (a Kenyan Arab) and Umayr.
Below are some adorable pictures of the Westgate mall just before the ‘wolves’ invaded the shopping centre.
10+ Picture Photographs Of Nairobi WestGate Mall Before The Attack
Lesser-Known About Westgate Mall Shooting
- Israelis were major owners and operator of stores and restaurants in Westgate at the time of the attacks.
- The attack claimed the lives of some prominent Africans like Ghanaian poet and diplomat Kofi Awoonor and Kenyan journalist Ruhila Adatia-Sood, including President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nephew Mbugua Mwangi and his fiancée Rosemary Wahito.
- It’s alleged that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was forewarned about the attack and that the service passed the message across to the police.
- Two of the numerous soldiers who were caught looting some stores were jailed for making away with mobile phones, battery chargers, and cameras. A video showing some of these soldiers can be seen here.
- on November 4, 2013, Mohammed Ahmed Abdi, Liban Abdullah, Adnan Ibrahim and Hussein Hassan, all appeared before the court for allegedly sheltering and helping the assailants obtain false citizenship documents.
In Pictures: The remnant of the Westgate parking lot
To date, nations around the world are still demanding answers from the Kenyan government about what transpired on September 21 at the Westgate Mall despite President Kenyatta reportedly admitting on October 10, 2013, that the Westgate operation was “bungled”, an undertaking to carry out a complete investigation.
The Kenyan Cabinet also recommended the country should declare war on al-Shabab, shut down refugee camps in the country, review immigration service to stall the issuance of fake ID papers, and establish an inter-agency coordination centre for intelligence gathering.