The attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall by Al-Shabab militants in September 2013 left 67 people dead. While I was in Kenya earlier this year, I interviewed two survivors of the siege on the mall. Their stories were published by Al Jazeera to mark one year since the attack.
One of the men fired into the security booth. A second gunman pointed his gun towards Mulwa and the security guard opposite him. A shot rang out and blood splattered. The guard had been shot in the head. He died instantly.
“The whole of that morning I had been playing with my daughter, who was 11 months old. All I remember is that I cried out – ‘God, why do you want me to leave my daughter?’ That’s when I heard the second gunshot. It was so loud. I wasn’t sure if I’d been shot or not,” he said.
Mulwa found himself lying flat on the ground. He closed his eyes and stayed very still. He heard the gunshots receding as the gunmen moved to another area.
I recently travelled to Kenya, the east African hub which is swift losing its status as a safe haven in the region thanks to a heightened terror threat from neighbouring Somalia. I was researching several in-depth features which are forthcoming, but I also wrote this short blog for the New Statesman about the impact that the terror threat is having on tourism:
The beach was deserted. Not just typical low season – slightly quiet, as you’d expect – but truly not another soul in sight. White sand, strewn with seaweed, stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an instant, brutally visible, result of international terror alerts.
On 16 May, the British Foreign Office warned that there was a “high threat” of terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast. Tour operators First Choice and Thomson Direct cancelled flights and evacuated 400 British tourists. The decision to evacuate was mainly due to insurance concerns but it was high profile and understandably caused panic among other holiday-goers. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings about Kenya’s coast, particularly the area surrounding the coastal city of Mombasa. The hundreds of cancellations stretch all the way to October.