The moment Westgate mall reopens, we will be there, says witness

Nairobi/Bangalore, Sept 23: She and her mother-in-law were in the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi when the deadly attacks took place on Saturday, killing over 60 people including foreign nationals and injuring several others. Oneindia contacted Nairobi-based Srinidhi, who witnessed perhaps the most horrific incident of her life, to get a first-hand account of what happened that day.

Kenya rose to the occasion at a time of crisis, the witness said proudly

Srinidhi was at the mall with her mother-in-law to exchange some bad stuff that they had bought. The former was filling up the forms near the Nakumatt entrance of the mall when they heard gunshots. They thought it was bursting of crackers but soon people were seen running for cover. The duo entered a storage place, which was also a fire exit. Panic had set in and the two managed to hide behind a trolley.

They filled it up with things so that they acted as shield against the bullets. There were old people and kids with them and all were praying for life. Thy even saw a badly injured mall employee running towards them. The man was taken to the ambulance in the trolley which Srinidhi had tried to use a protective shield. They also saw a woman hit by a bullet on her back and bleeding profusely.

Pulling fridges as shield

Srinidhi even pulled packed fridges in the store to protect themselves. They heard more gunshots and the general manager of the mall told them to calm down as the police had already launched a rescue operation and were trying to evacuate those left stranded inside. Yet, it was little to assure the people as they were running for life.

Srinidhi and her mother-in-law ran nearly 300 metres, albeit exhausted, till they found a car driven by a policeman in plain clothes.

Initially, he refused but agreed when they told him to drop at a nearby friend's place. Srinidhi's husband arrived there to meet the two traumatised women.

"This is Kenya's price for peace"

Srinidhi's husband said: "This is the price Kenya is paying to manage peace at its borders and not have a terrorist organisation create disharmony at a neighbouring state, quite similar to the price India paid for the IPKF mission in Sri Lanka."

But Srinidhi refused to agree that the incident could impact the peace-loving nature of the Kenyans. "Kenya is a safe and peace loving country and we believe in co-existence and harmony," she said when asked whether she felt common Kenyans were safe in the face of the threat posed by dreaded terror outfits like Al-Shabaab.

The Somalia-based terror outfit claimed responsibility for the attack and it was believed that the attacks were to retaliate against Kenya's contribution to the fight against the militants. Terrorism is a worldwide threat today, and countries like the USA and India have also fallen victim to it, Srinidhi said.

"Kenyan Police did a great rescue act"

She also praised the Kenyan police to have responded to the crisis with great alacrity. "Cops had arrived at the scene almost immediately hence we were able to escape. We were about 200 or so stranded in one area and were able to escape in about an hour's time. Even in the First World countries, response to such situations has its constraints," she said.

"Did not see the terrorists, only heard the gunshots"

She, however, could not confirm reports that the terrorists were picking the non-Muslims as their victims. She said she did not see or hear the assassins but only heard the gunshots and people screaming and running.

"Indian high commissioner and officials deserve a pat on their back"

Srinidhi also lauded the Indian high commission for catering to the needs of the Indians affected by the tragedy (two Indians, including a boy, was killed in the shootout). She said the high commissioner and senior officials visited the hospitals where the injured were being treated and offered assistance.

But Srinidhi refused to get discouraged by the act of terror. When asked whether she will not visit malls again for some time till she gets over the trauma, Srinidhi said by not going to the Westgate mall, which is a symbol of Kenya's multicultural identity, they will be supporting the terrorists. "The moment Westgate opens up, you will find us there," she said.

"Kenyans rose to the occasion in an unbelievable way"

She also said the way the Kenyans have responded to the heinous act is beyond description. "Apart from the financial contribution, blood donation camps for the victims have been organised not just in Nairobi but in all major cities of Kenya. Food, Water and other supplies are being offered to the security forces by civilians in appreciation of the work they have been doing for the last three days tirelessly despite rains and the severe cold," she said, adding: "The terrorists want to divide the country, but they failed as Kenyans are more united than ever before."

OneIndia News

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