On September 21st, bloodthirsty militants besieged Westgate mall. For about 96 hours, the world watched in horror as harrowing stories of mayhem flooded news outlets. However, buried in the debris of unimaginable carnage are faith-restoring accounts of people who shirked any semblance of self-preservation to confront the terrorists and save lives. Here are 5 enduring stories about the heroes of Westgate.
4-year old Elliott Prior was shopping with his mum and his sister in Nakumatt supermarket when the terrorists entered and began shooting indiscriminately. In a moment of reprieve, the gunmen ordered any kids who were still alive to leave the supermarket. Elliot’s mother gathered her children to make a run for it, but little Elliot bravely confronted the men. “You are a very bad man” he scolded. The terrorists asked for forgiveness and gave the young children chocolates before the family fled.
Beyond the call of duty
A British Special Air Service agent has been credited with saving over 100 people stranded inside the mall. The officer was drinking coffee at a café when the massacre erupted. Instead of running for cover, he ran into building to save lives. According to eyewitness accounts, he rushed into the building over a dozen times to drag people to safety.
One of the first scene of casualties occurred at the rooftop of Westgate where a cooking contest was being filmed. When the terrorists prepared to shoot children who were participating in the cooking competition, they were met by Mitul Shah. The 38-year old marketing executive stood up and offered himself as a hostage in a bid to save the 33 children. He was shot and killed as he tried to protect the children, but by stalling the militants he saved lives
In the early stages of the massacre, the al-Shabaab terrorists, sought to execute non-muslims. Hostages who did not know the name of the Prophet Mohammed’s mother or a verse in the Quran were shot at point blank range. During this bizarre vetting process, there is the compassionate story of a Muslim man who stayed with a Christian hostage and helped him memorize a verse in the Quran so his life could be spared.
Before we knew his name or his occupation, he was simply the guy in the black and white shirt. In one image, he is seen beckoning a young child to safety. In another, he is consoling a mother, in others he has assumed a protective stance, his black Glock pointed menacingly in the direction of the terrorists. His name is Abdul Haji, son of the former Minister of Defense, a proud Muslim and acclaimed hero of the Westgage Massacre. When the news broke that terrorists had hit Westgate mall, Haji was not in the mall but his brother was. Although he has not received any formal military training, he rushed to the scene to save is brother’s life. When he reached Westgate and saw the extent of the violence, Haji collaborated with security forces and the Red Cross to escort victims to safety. In what has become an iconic image of the massacre, Abdul Haji is seen coaxing a young American girl towards safety. In an interview, he explained, “I have to admit that this little girl is a very brave girl. Amidst all this chaos around her she remained calm, she wasn’t crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were carrying guns… I was really touched by this. I thought if such a girl could be so brave, there is no reason why we cannot sustain this. It gave us more courage”
A solemn week has passed since the senseless act of violence took place in Nairobi. I salute the security officers, volunteers and ordinary people who personified courage on that fateful day.