Nairobi mall attack: “I called my daughters, and said my goodbyes”

A dentist's patients hide out during the attack on Westgate mall on Saturday. All photos by our Observer. 
 
 
A survivor of the Nairobi shopping mall attack tells France 24 about the harrowing hours she spent in hiding at the start of the terrorists’ operation.
 
Eiman Algharir, the wife of a Kuwaiti diplomat, was at her dentists’ office in the Westgate mall when the attack broke out on Saturday. She took several photos of people hiding and of victims on a nearby rooftop, which she posted on Instagram.
Contributors

“The police told us to not to move and stay very quiet”

I was in the dentist's chair, looking out the window to the top of the building next door, which is another part of the mall that has a parking lot on top of it. There were tents set up there, with people milling about – they often hold events up there on the weekends. I learned later that the tents were being used for a competition for Kenya MasterChef Junior, a cooking show. There were also children playing on trampolines.
 
A view of the next-door rooftop, with the children's trampolines in the foreground.
 
Suddenly, there was a loud bang, like from a grenade. I saw people running to the right side of the parking lot, where the exit is. But then they turned and headed back to the left – it seems they had run into the attackers. I heard machinegun fire, and at that point all of us in the waiting room moved away from the windows and hid in the hallway. We were afraid we might get hit by a stray shot.
 
At first we thought it might just be burglars, but then the dentist got a good look at the attackers and told us ‘No, this is a terrorist attack’ – he could tell they were Islamists from Al Shabab from their clothing style. I could see security guards in blue uniforms chasing after the terrorists. There were people jumping off the roof, but I couldn’t tell if they were terrorists or victims. [According to other eyewitness accounts, some of the people in the parking lot took shelter under cars, while others managed to flee]. I saw bodies that looked as if they were dead. I took some photos. A second grenade exploded, and we called the police.
 
Although this looked to be an arrest, our Observer was not sure what was going on when she took this photo.
 
“These terrorists cannot stop us from living”
 
The police told us not to move from the clinic, that they would come and get us as soon as they secured the building. They told us to try to stay calm and very quiet. There was a one-and-a-half year-old child among us – it wasn’t easy to quiet her. There were about 25 or 30 of us in that hall, and people were calling the authorities, their friends, their loved ones – getting updates on the situation. When we heard they were taking hostages, we knew it was bad. We were terrified they would take the whole building, and find us hiding there. I called my daughters, told them I loved them, said my goodbyes.
 
Bodies lying in the parking lot following the attack. Rescue personnel had not yet arrived on the scene.
 
About four hours after the start of the attack, the police called back one of the women in our group and told her they had secured our part of the building. They said they were at the clinic door. We opened the door, and the police rushed us down the stairs. There were policemen with guns covering us; there are windows everywhere at this mall, and we didn’t know where the terrorists might be. They took us out to the parking lot I had photographed, which was now secure. They gave us water, checked to see that we were okay, and ambulances started taking us away. The ambulance I rode in was covered with blood.
 
Rescue personnel arrive on the scene.
 
I spent the rest of the weekend with my family, thinking about those who stayed in the mall. Today, I hesitated to send my daughters back to school, but in the end I did. Kenya is a beautiful country, and Kenyans are strong people. These terrorists cannot stop us from living.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure). 
Close