Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall reopened for business on Saturday, almost two years after Somali Islamists stormed in and massacred 67 shoppers and staff in four days of carnage.
The complex, Nairobi’s most upmarket shopping centre and a magnet for the east African nation’s growing middle class and expatriates, was badly damaged in the assault by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shebab rebels and has undergone months of renovation.
Around 50 shoppers queued to be the first to pass through newly-installed metal detectors at the main entrance, after Nairobi governor Evans Kidero and Atul Shah, owner of the main regional supermarket chain Nakumatt, declared the mall back in business in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
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“Today we are excited because we are back on our feet, and we can convince the world that terrorism is not bringing us down,” said Ben Mulla, a 34-year-old communications contractor and a siege survivor.
“I was coming to have a business lunch. The shooting was intense, and I went to hide in a flowerbed. I saw four terrorists… they shot at me and the ricochet from the wall went in my leg. They shot a security guard right in front of me,” he recounted.
“They were young men. They were emotionless. They seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. Their faces I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
The Shebab said they attacked the mall as retaliation for the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia, where they are part of an African Union force supporting the internationally-backed Mogadishu government.
Since Westgate, the Shebab have continued to strike Kenya, with an even bigger attack in April when another four suicide attackers massacred 148 people in Kenya’s northeastern Garissa University, most of them students.
The attacks have badly damaged Kenya’s economy, with the country no longer so widely seen as a bastion of stability in the region. Tourism to Kenya, famed for its national parks, wildlife and Indian Ocean beaches, has also taken a major hit.
Returning for work at one of Westgate’s coffee shops, Rachael Logilan, 23, insisted she felt safe in the renovated mall — despite her memories of being shot at and then spending five hours hiding in a storeroom as the gunmen hunted down their victims.
“Of course it was a trauma. For three months I had bad dreams,” said Logilan, one of just a tiny number of siege survivors who have taken up their old jobs. “It’s a nice place. You can meet different people. I feel secure.”