Asian volunteers run for cover after hearing a volley of gunshots at the mall in Nairobi on Monday. (AFP)
Thick smoke billows from the besieged Nairobi mall. Kenya says the terrorists have set alight mattresses
Sound of explosions as Kenyan forces launch raid. Government says two terrorists killed. Standoff continues
One slain attacker was
a white woman, sources tell Reuters. There’s speculation she was the “White Widow”
or Samantha Lewthwaite, whose husband was one
of the suicide bombers who
attacked London’s transport system on 7/7 in 2005. Chechen militants refer to women taking part in attacks after their husbands have died as Black Widows. But Kenya says all attackers male
Kenya says the terrorists
came from “all over the world”, “a multinational
collection” for “global
New Delhi, Sept. 23: Westgate, the upscale Nairobi shopping mall attacked by al Shabaab terrorists, guarantees the “ultimate shopping experience” on its now-crashed website — and Sachin Patel had believed that for the past five years.
Patel, a 34-year-old software entrepreneur, and his friends — mostly Kenyans of Indian origin — have visited the mall most weekends since it opened in 2007, eating out, partying and shopping at what they started calling their “weekend home”.
Westgate, popular with the rich, expatriates and foreign travellers, also served as a magnet for the affluent Indian community in Nairobi. A trip there had the added attraction of invariably bumping into friends and old schoolmates, Patel said.
But on Saturday, as he was driving to the mall to meet friends, he received a call from his father, who had moved to Nairobi from Gujarat in the 1970s. His father told him to turn back, that terrorists had attacked the mall and that Indians there had been shot.
“It took a couple of seconds to sink in before I realised our weekend home was under siege,” Patel said, speaking over the phone. “I had always recommended Westgate to others, especially in the Indian-origin community. That moment, I wished I hadn’t.”
Al Shabaab’s battle is against the Kenyan government and armed forces, not against India or Indians. But its choice of venue left the list of victims crowded with Indian-sounding names.
Three Indian nationals have been confirmed killed in the three-day-long siege of the mall by terrorists from the al Qaida affiliate from Somalia, and four injured, senior officials at the Indian high commission in Nairobi said.
But many more Indian-origin Kenyans have been killed or wounded in the attacks that have revived memories of the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes. “Only once the mall is cleared out will we know if there are any bodies inside,” an official at the Indian mission said.
“I’m happy but surprised that there aren’t even more Indians on the list of the wounded, ” T.P. Sreenivasan, India’s high commissioner to Kenya from 1995 to 1997, told The Telegraph.
“Between Indian shopkeepers and businessmen on the one hand, and shoppers on the other, you would typically find Indian-origin people constituting about 90 per cent of the people in such shops and malls,” he added.
From Indian-origin business tycoons like rags-to-riches toilet-paper king Manu Chandaria, hoteliers Anoop Vohra and Kentan Somaia, and real estate magnate Laxmanbhai Raghwani, who all figure among the richest Kenyans, to young entrepreneurs like Patel, the community is among the most affluent in the east African nation.
That affluence has generated heartburn among sections in the country that have accused Indian-origin Kenyans of grabbing wealth without contributing enough to the nation.
Indians have been victims of hate crimes and, at times, been caught in political crossfire as competing groups lobby for financial support from the community.
Sreenivasan was attacked at home in Kenya in 1995, leaving the diplomat in a wheelchair with a fractured leg. “But unlike then, here the target clearly wasn’t Indians,” Sreenivasan said. “It’s sad, they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Located in Westlands, Nairobi’s entertainment and shopping hub, Westgate is popular among Indians like Patel and friends, and hosts multiple public events every weekend.
One such event became the scene of some of the most brutal deaths. Radio jockey and news presenter Ruhila Adatia-Sood, Jyoti Vaya and Malti Vaya — all Indian-origin Kenyans — were riddled with bullets by terrorists in a rooftop car park in the mall where a children’s cooking show was being recorded.
Some, like 28-year-old Ranjit Singh, got lucky. Singh had planned to visit the mall on Saturday but eventually did not because he took ill. “It’s a place where people come with friends and others with their family,” Singh said over the phone from Nairobi. “At least, they used to.”