Kenya massacre mall reopens in Nairobi

A Kenyan police officer patrols at the entrance of Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, after it reopened on July 18, 2015 almost two years on from a deadly Islamist attack (AFP Photo/Simon Maina)

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 Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall reopened for business on Saturday, almost two years after Somali militants 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 Al Shabab rebels and has undergone months of renovation.

Survivors of the massacre were among about 50 shoppers who queued to be the first to pass through newly installed metal detectors at the main entrance.

“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 said.

“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.”

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.

Al Shabab 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.

“They didn’t kill our spirit,” said Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. “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 that the visit of the US president Barack Obama next weekend was also “a vote a confidence for our city and our country”.

Al Shabab continued to strike on Kenyan soil after Westgate, with an even bigger attack in April when another four suicide attackers massacred 148 people in Kenya’s north-eastern 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 Ms 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.”

Hussain Ibrahim, a Kenyan 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.

He complained that Kenya’s response to the terror threat – which has included mass round-ups of ethnic Somalis and alleged extrajudicial killings – was isolating Kenya’s Muslims.

“It’s not getting any better, there are more and more attacks in north-eastern Kenya. The government of Kenya did a mistake, they radicalised Muslim people. We are being pushed into a corner.”

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