Survivors of a deadly terrorist attack in a Nairobi shopping centre in Kenya have said they felt “betrayed” after the mall reopened.
Kenyans held prayers and lit candles on Monday (21) to mark the second anniversary of the Westgate shopping mall attack by militants from Somalia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab group.
However survivors told Eastern Eye they are still too traumatised to go back to the newly refurbished centre which re-opened in July.
Nairobi’s governor, Evans Kidero, said the September 2013 attack was “one of the saddest days in Kenyan history” but pointed to the re-opening as a triumph of national resilience in the face of militant attacks.
Kidero said security has been stepped up and urged people to keep shopping to show Kenya was open for business.
At least 67 people died and scores more were wounded wh-en a group of heavily armed militants stormed into the Westgate mall, tossing grenades and executing shoppers and staff.
The mall was crowded with hundreds of shoppers and friends meeting for meals.
Ruhila Adatia-Sood, a popular presenter for Radio Africa media group’s East FM, was killed by gunmen at the roof-top car park of the centre.
She was part of a team hosting a cooking competition for children at the time of the attack and six months pregnant.
Colleague Kamal Kaur, who was at the cookery show with her two children, said she was “not happy” about the reopening.
“I felt betrayed. I was told to stop being irrational and that life must go on, but no one asked the survivors what they thought about it being reopened,” she told Eastern Eye.
New security measures at the Westgate Mall include explosive detectors, luggage X-rays, scanners to check underneath cars, bollards to prevent car bombs and bullet-proof guard towers.Kaur said even with the added security, she won’t be revisiting the mall any time soon.
“Everywhere is safe until terrorists decide to attack it. I’m not going into that place again. I have nasty memories,” she said.
“Telling me that there’s added security won’t let me step in there. It’s not that I fear lightning striking twice; I just have horrid and vivid visions of what I experienced there.”
At the time, a grenade was thrown at Kaur and her children and gunshots were shot at. They all escaped, but were hit in the legs by shrapnel.
“My daughter’s leg still has shrapnel embedded in it,” revealed Kaur. “My son goes through moments when he gets scared or unsettled.
“I find myself bursting into tears. Most of the time I’m strong, especially for the sake of my kids, but sometimes I can’t help but relive scenarios. Also the what ifs just don’t stop.”
The family have since had counselling to help them through the ordeal. “My children are gradually gaining confidence going out but are very clingy. They are with me all the time and get anxious when they don’t see me,” Kaur said.
“I go through anxiety. If they’re late home from school by five minutes I’m calling to be reassured. I was never like that.”