Survivors of the ongoing siege at an upscale mall in Kenya are describing moments of confusion and utter terror — including a woman who hid under mattresses in a store and an African journalist who watched a pregnant friend die.
Extended gunfire and at least seven large explosions resounded from the mall, in the capital city of Nairobi, on Monday as Kenyan security forces struggled to take control on the third day of the attack.
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At least 62 people were dead, according to the Kenyan Red Cross. By late in the day Kenya time, the government said that it was in control most of the mall, but there was little evidence of that, and smoke rose from the complex well into the evening. It was not clear how many hostages, if any, were still inside, nor how many attackers.
As the standoff wore on, stories of the survivors began to emerge.
Some of them took to Twitter: Kamal Kaur, a journalist for Radio Africa, chronicled the ordeal in a heartbreaking series of posts and said she could not stop thinking about a little boy who was shot instead of her own son.
The bullet missed her son by an inch, she wrote — “almost had his head blown off” — then bounced off a wall and struck and killed the other boy.
“Image of the boy I was trying to save but got shot instead of my son keeps swimming in front of my eyes,” Kaur wrote, in posts collected by The Independent, a British newspaper. “How do I sleep after seeing that?”
The journalist spoke of dried blood in her hair, dead bodies and wailing victims.
“Bodies of children were everywhere,” she wrote. “Children. Innocent little children. Holding on to me asking where their mummies were.”
Kaur’s colleague and friend Ruhlia Adatia, six months pregnant, was killed in the siege. Kaur wrote on Twitter about breaking the news to her own children about Adatia, known to them as Ruhlia Auntie.
“I still haven’t told my children that their Ruhila Auntie is no more. I don’t know how to. I can’t. They’re still in shock & wounded.”
The militants launched their siege of the facility, Westgate Shopping Mall, on Saturday afternoon. Al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization linked to al Qaeda, said that it was behind the assault and that it was retribution for a 2011 push by Kenya into Somalia.
On Monday, a column of thick, black smoke rose from one section of the mall. Kenyan authorities, who vowed the night before to end the siege, said that they had the gunmen and hostages confined to one section of the mall. Each side, the security forces and the attackers, blamed the other for the explosions.
A Kenyan security source told NBC News that a military operation had blown an opening in the back of the mall, partly as a diversionary tactic. At least some of the gunfire was believed intended to scatter crowds around the mall.
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