|Universal symbols of malls and unmistakable signs of mayhem mingle
as two children and a lady hit the floor
and take cover behind a beverages
outlet at the shopping complex in
Nairobi. The letter ‘B’ on the shopping
bag near the girl’s head will be familiar
to Bata customers in India (AFP)
Sept. 22: A patient list dominated by scores of bullet-riddled Indians on foreign soil, a militant brought in for treatment whipping out his gun and firing inside the hospital — Dr K.B. Patel had never seen “anything like this” in his 39 years in Kenya.
The general surgeon at Nairobi’s MP Shah Hospital today described over the phone the scenes he saw yesterday after Somali militants attacked the Westgate mall, barely a kilometre from his hospital.
As Kenyan forces launched “a major assault” late tonight to end a hostage standoff at the mall, news reports indicated at least three people of Indian origin were among the 68 killed by the terrorists yesterday. A hospital official’s account suggested some 70-odd among the 175 wounded were Indians.
PTI quoted India’s foreign ministry spokesperson to identify two dead Indians as Paramshu Jain, 8, son of a manager of the local Bank of Baroda branch, and Sridhar Natarajan, 40, a pharma company employee. Reuters reported that a 16-year-old, Nehal Vekaria, was cremated today.
Dr Patel said the upmarket mall, a symbol of the rising prosperity of east Africa’s largest economy, witnessed huge footfall on Saturday afternoons and a large section of the shoppers tended to be Indians.
“A large Indian population lives around this area. If the (12.30pm) attack had happened after 4pm, many more would have died,” said Patel, whose house is a 10-minute walk from the mall.
A hospital official said: “We have received at least 150 people (injured in the mall shooting) since yesterday, and half of them are Indians. Nineteen people, including children, died, some before being admitted.”
Many were discharged, he said, but several of those still admitted to the 94-bed hospital are critical.
One of those brought in was a wounded militant — media reports said only one among the “10 to 15” terrorists was captured. The rest of the attackers were holding an unspecified number of hostages in the mall when the government launched the rescue mission, reportedly after consulting Israeli advisers.
As Dr Patel briefly left the operation theatre around 4.30pm yesterday and stood in the main corridor, he heard gunshots from the other end.
“The injured terrorist had smuggled a pistol in and was firing. The police overpowered him,” he said.
Media reports said the captured militant had “died in hospital” without clarifying how. The militants were from Somalia’s powerful al Shabaab, an al Qaida-linked group, which said the attack was revenge for Kenya sending troops to the neighbouring nation to fight the outfit.
Dr Patel, who has been in Kenya since 1974, said he and half-a-dozen other surgeons spent nearly 10 hours performing surgeries yesterday. He could not remember how many bullets he had taken out.
“There were bullets everywhere — spine, abdomen, chest, hands and legs. Some had suffered fractures because of the impact of the bullets,” he said.
“I went into the OT at 1.30pm and came out past 11pm. I did five surgeries.”
Amid the horror, the surgeon had a personal reason to feel relieved. He said his daughter-in-law took his granddaughter to the mall almost every Saturday.
“I can’t help thinking what might have happened had they gone to the mall yesterday.”
Officials said the hospital had come up as Parklands Nursing Home in the 1930s but was later taken over by the authorities of the MP Shah Medical College and Hospital in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
Dr Patel’s hospital isn’t the only one to have witnessed terrorist shooting in recent years — the November 2008 Mumbai gunmen had targeted the city’s Cama Hospital.
In another near-parallel, just like a Jewish centre was attacked in Mumbai, there was shooting near an Israeli-owned café at Westgate though sources said it wasn’t a target and no Israeli was killed.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today wrote to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, condemning the terror attack.