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The aftermath of a terror attack in Kenya
The photo captioned was taken during the Dusit D2 attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Security officers helped the woman and other people to safety after terrorists raided the complex mall. |Photo Credit; Voice of America

Trauma of Kenya terror attack burns in my mind

We heard loud gunshots. We knew it was just a matter of time before the attackers found us.

Artist's conception of an anonymous person
First-person source
Salome Wanjiru Njoki is a resident in Nairobi and works as a cashier in Ngara area. She is married and has two children. She recounted her experience during the attack as she seeks to heal from the trauma it caused her.
Background
Reports indicate six Al-Shabaab militia members with AK 47s, an AK-63, H&K G3, FI grenade, explosives, and ammunition carried out the DusitD2 attack. The first explosion by a suicide bomb, detonated near The Garden restaurant, was reportedly not the terrorists’ initial plan. The bomb went off before he assessed the restaurant. The other five attackers then opened fire on guards and entered the building.

Responders included the GSU Kenyan police unit. Their arrival saved lives and distracted the attackers from civilians. A British Special Air Services member and members of the Diplomatic Protective Services also entered the building and started clearing the scene and leading people to safety as soon as the attack began. Their arrival led to a lower death toll then the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. 

In DusitD2, 22 reportedly died with over 100 injured. Al-Shabaab later confirmed their involvement calling it vengeance for Kenya’s involvement in the Somali Civil War and bid to eradicate them in Kismayo, Somalia. They reiterated their disapproval of then U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The lead attacker in DusitD2 was Kenyan-born, from a Christian family. He changed his religion before leaving the country and falsely indicated he was pursuing higher education outside the country.

It later became apparent he received military training at an Al-Shabaab base in Somalia.

Poverty in Kenya’s poorest neighborhoods is said to be the leading factor in radicalization. Terrorism deals a major blow to Kenya despite being one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa. One of the first attacks in Kenya in 1998 was the American embassy bombing in Nairobi. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. Over 225 died and thousands were injured, leading the American FBI to announce Osama Bin Laden as one of the most wanted people in the world.

In partnership with international security agencies, the Kenyan government began educating citizens on radicalization and terrorism. The country enjoyed stability between 2000 and 2010. In 2011, Kenya’s third president H.E Mwai Kibaki launched a military operation “Linda Nchi” or “protect the country.” Though America did not engage in the operation, according to www.wikipedia.com, it supported the operation. The Al-Shabaab terror group was formed in 2006 in Somalia. Up to 2010 they were secretly radicalizing youth from Kenya.

The Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) sought to hit different bases belonging to Al-Shabaab and ultimately struck their headquarters at Kismayo. While the operation was concluded in 2012, the group was not fully eradicated and, in turn, affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

NAIROBI, Kenya — On June 15, 2019, a miracle happened. I survived a terror attack.

The evil I witnessed that day remains fresh in my mind. Even more painful is the trauma I have coped with for the last three years.

The attack I survived was carried out by Al-Shabaab, an Islamic terrorist group.

At 2:30 p.m., I arrived at DusitD2 [a modern hotel and resort chain] on Riverside Drive. I was hurrying inside the mall because I had to get back home to pick up my children from school.

As I shopped, I heard a very loud explosion. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. I was on the second floor and continued shopping in the supermarket boutique. Then, I heard a loud bang. 

Gunshots and screams

It was followed by gunshots and screams. As people rushed to the windows to see what was going on, my first thought was to go downstairs to the first floor and just go home.

“Wamekuja, ni al-Shabaab,” one man said in Swahili, which translates to “They have come, I think it’s al-Shabaab”.

The scene triggered the memory of the Westgate shopping mall attack and how brutal it was. I thought, “My life is over.”

I remember one man told us not to go to the first floor since the attackers were already there. He told us to go further up and hide in the rooms on the third floor, hoping the police would arrive swiftly. 

About 10 of us hurried to the third floor and hid in one of the insurance company offices. We continued to hear loud gunshots and about two hours passed. By then it was 5 p.m. and we knew it was just a matter of time before the attackers found us.

Sent emotional text

I texted my husband one of the most emotional texts I think I will ever send in my lifetime.

I told him I was in danger; that I had gone to DusitD2 and Al-Shabaab attacked.

I said, “Just know I love you and our dear kids. Take care of them and I love you all”. 

Death seemed moments away.

The gunshots outside were deafening and people continued to scream. We could not leave our hiding place.

My husband tried to call me, but the group asked me not to pick up my phone, and they told me to put it on silent mode.

I texted again and told him we were hiding on the third floor in an office.

The attack continued. Now it was 7 p.m. I managed to squeeze myself into a tiny bathroom.

At around 8 p.m. we heard gunshots at very close range. There was shouting all around us. The office doors opened. 

Chaotic exchange

Everything in the room was turned upside down and the bathroom door opened. 

A voice rang out, “Stay down and hands up.” 

It was not the terrorists.

Two heavily armed Kenyan police officers from the General Service Unit (GSU) frisked us.

We had no firearms. They asked us to stay calm and told us we would be taken out in a short while.

I remember walking over dead bodies as we were led out by anti-terrorism police. The scene was horrific. I had never experienced such anxiety and fear before and it has not left me. 

To this day, I have a higher pulse, high blood pressure, and stress-related diseases. 

The attack I experienced was just one of a string of attacks in Kenya.

Chriskelvin is a Kenyan freelancer and journalism student at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Nairobi.

Beyond journalism, he has a writing passion to inform, educate, entertain and enlighten others.