Kenya shopping mall attack - eyewitness accounts: 'The people at the next table were all shot and killed'

Adrian Massie-Blomfield in Nairobi hears from the shoppers who witnessed the start of the assault

Hours after the gunfire began, hours in which she bled on to her children as they cowered beneath her on the supermarket floor, Pauline came face-to-face with the gunmen who had brought terror to Nairobi’s Westgate mall.

All afternoon, the attackers had shown scant mercy for shoppers and restaurant-goers. Hunting in packs, they moved from store to store on Saturday, sometimes killing indiscriminately, at other times sparing those who could prove they were Muslims and executing those who could not. Now, the gunmen sought to justify themselves. “We are not monsters,” they told Pauline, a French advertising producer. “The Muslim faith is not a bad one.” Twice they demanded her forgiveness and when she acquiesced, they gave Mars bars to her two children, Emily, 6, and Eliot, 4, and let them go.

But if this was a brief glimpse of conscience on the part of the terrorists, it was not to last. Within minutes, the shooting had begun again.

The Westgate shopping mall, perhaps Nairobi’s plushest, is at its busiest on Saturdays, as the attackers no doubt knew. The restaurants were full, the 80-odd stores on three floors crowded and the Nakumatt supermarket thronged with working parents like Pauline, shopping for the weekend.

The attackers struck just before noon. There were as many as 18, at least one of them a woman, according to witnesses. Well-armed, their planning meticulous, they divided into groups in order to maximise their chances of killing as many people as possible.

Everyone in the mall heard the initial shots, but it was customers on the terrace of Art Caffe, a French-style brasserie, who saw them first.

“My father was sitting down for coffee with his brother when they heard gunfire coming from the street,” said a Kenyan Sikh, who rushed to the mall and later joined volunteers taking out the dead. “They immediately hit the ground and then heard three loud explosions. The people at the next table were all shot and died.”

After three-quarters of an hour, the Sikh brothers and their father managed to escape through a delivery entrance to the restaurants. Other diners were not so lucky, running into the main section of the mall only to find themselves confronted by more gunmen who had forced their way through the shopping centre’s principal entrance.

Unarmed guards, there to keep order and frisk customers entering the mall, were the first targets, according to one witness, Ben Mutua. “They shot into the security booths and at the backs of the guards as they tried to run away.”

As one group of attackers headed into the mall, two others made their way to car parks in the basement and on the roof. The gunmen managed to drive at least one vehicle into one of the car parks. A police source said the car was loaded with extra ammunition.

Inside the mall, desperate shoppers sought whatever shelter they could, hiding behind pillars and even in ventilation shafts as the shots rang round them.

In the Nakumatt supermarket, Pauline – who asked that her surname not be disclosed for fear of reprisals – had briefly left her children at the checkout while she ran back to get milk.

“Suddenly everyone started running and there were shots outside,” she said yesterday from her hospital bed. “People started screaming and running into Nakumatt. I ran against the flow and grabbed the two kids and tried to get to the back door of the supermarket.”

But at the rear of the store there were shots too, leaving Pauline and other shoppers with no option but to find shelter inside. With 20 other people, they hid under a cold meat counter. Placing her children hard against a refrigeration unit, Pauline lay on top of them and urged them to be quiet.

Pauline and her children had been hiding for an hour and a half when a gunman walked around the meat counter and started shooting.

A bullet passed through her thigh and out of one of her buttocks. Several others were killed before the attacker retreated, leaving wounded and unwounded alike screaming in pain and terror.

Elsewhere in the mall, the gunmen had begun to take hostages. Those who were able to show Muslim names on their identity cards were spared. Others were executed, including a Hindu man who failed to identify the name of the Prophet Mohammed’s mother.

Another two hours passed before the attackers returned to the supermarket, announcing that any children still inside would be allowed to leave. Pauline knew she was taking a gamble, and stood up. Initially they were unwilling to let her go with her children – who were unscathed – until they discovered she was French. “He said we only want to kill Kenyans and Americans,” she said. “He then told me I had to change my religion to Islam and said ‘do you forgive us? do you forgive us?’. Naturally I was going to say whatever they wanted and they let us go. I said ‘yes, you’re right, Muslims are not bad people’.

“I managed to take two other children with me. One boy of about 12, who was shot in the foot, refused to leave his mother who was dead but I screamed at him and managed to get him into a shopping trolley and wheel him out.”

Pauline’s escape was miraculous. Elsewhere in the mall, other nationalities were not spared. A French mother and daughter were “executed” in one of the car parks, according to the French government.

As night fell, the killing had become more sporadic. Those still inside the mall had either hidden too well or had been taken hostage as the terrorists began to prepare for a final showdown. Throughout the night, shoppers remained in their hiding places, a few managing to flee to safety yesterday. Among them was a Kenyan woman who had hidden under shopping trolleys at the supermarket for 16 hours.

Official figures report 68 fatalities, but police sources inside the mall told The Independent that many bodies were yet to be recovered.

Further reading:

The victims came from around the world. So did their killers
Was wife of 7/7 bomber among attackers?
'All hostages freed' as Kenyan soldiers take control of mall
Kenyans are more united in tragedy’s aftermath
The victims: The architect and his pregnant wife
Video: Amateur footage from Kenya shopping mall attack
Ian Birrell: How to fight al-Shabaab

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee