On Saturday morning, gunmen burst into the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, firing into the crowds of shoppers.
Those who escaped had a horrific story to tell.
Members of the Islamist terrorist group al Shabaab, wearing black turbans and carrying grenades and automatic weapons, ordered women, men and children to line up. Those who were Muslims could go, they said, but anyone who was not a Muslim would be executed.
Merely stating that one was a Muslim wasn’t enough for the attackers, however, who demanded that those who claim the faith recite verses from the Koran or name the Prophet Mohammed’s mother. Witnesses said that those who passed this test stood up and walked away while those who couldn’t were executed – children among them.
Charles Karani, an IT engineer, watched the scene unfold from the rooftop car park where he was hiding with his two young daughters.
“People soon realized not to try to cheat,” he said.
Elijah Kamau was in the mall at the time of the shooting. He told reporters that non-Muslims were targeted by the attackers from the beginning.
“The gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave. They were safe, and non-Muslims would be targeted,” he reported.
Jay Patel, another witness, said he saw gunmen with a group of people on the upper parking deck of the mall. He said that some of the people stood up and left as the attackers talked, while others were lined up and shot.
The Islamist terrorist group al Shabaab has taken responsibility for the attack in numerous posts on Twitter.
“The Mujahideen entered #Westgate Mall today at around noon and are still inside the mall, fighting the #Kenyan Kuffar [infidels] inside their own turf,” one post read.
On Monday morning, three large explosions were heard at the Westgate Mall, where gunmen are thought to still hold hostages.
David Kimaiyo is the inspector general of Kenya’s police. On Monday he posted on his Twitter account that more hostages had been rescued overnight and “very few are remaining,” adding, “We are also closing in on the attackers.”
At least 68 people were killed in the mall attack on Saturday, with at least 175 people injured.
A woman who gave her name as Cecilia told Reuters of her experiences on her way out of the mall on Sunday.
“They were shooting from the exit ramp, shooting everywhere,” she said.
“I saw people being shot all around me, some with blood pouring from bad wounds. I was just praying, praying, 'God, keep me alive' and that my day hadn't come.”
Kristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, and the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin recently returned from Turkey and the Syrian border, where she covered the plight of refugees fleeing the conflict. She can be contacted at Kristin@kristinwright.net.
Publication date: September 23, 2013