Kenya:Ali Kiae Gitonga started his day when he took his employer’s two daughters to the Westgate shopping mall. He never knew that September 21, would be a day that will, forever, remain stuck in his mind.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
“They were Fardosa Abdi, 17, and Dheeman Abdi,” Gitonga said.
He drove the car to the basement where he parked it and the girls headed to the Nakumatt supermarket located on the ground floor of the upmarket shopping complex.
Minutes later, they came out with a Nakumatt shopping paper bag and went back again to the busy mall for lunch, saying they will be back soon.
“Almost immediately after I tucked the shopping bags in the car parked at the basement, I heard heavy gun fire. I did not exactly know where it was coming from,” he said. “I hid behind the car.”
During that moment of frenzy and confusion, he received a distress call from the girls’ mother who wanted to know if her daughters were safe. She said she was informed by unidentified person in the mall that her daughters were injured in the shooting.
"I dashed into the shopping mall only to be met by more gunfire, which forced me to seek refuge in a corner inside the mall," Gitonga said.
“With about 25 scared people, we were led by a Nakumatt official to what looked like a storage facility on the second floor where we hid for at least three hours while the shooting continued,” he narrated.
Later, soldiers from the Kenya Defence Forces appeared, and standing at a safe distance near the hideout, they beckoned them to come out, assuring them of safety.
Once they stepped outside, they came under barrage of bullets. He joined others crawling on the floor. He did not know what really happened to him but minutes later, he realised he had been shot in the back and thighs.
He was among the people rescued and taken to the Aga Khan University Hospital by rescuers. Some of the bullets lodged in his body were safely removed while others were to be removed at the Armed Forces Memorial Hospital.
Gitonga was whisked away in a heavily guarded ambulance to the Armed Forces Hospital where he remained for nearly three weeks chained to his hospital bed. Reason?? The authorities said he was a key suspect in the attack.
While undergoing treatment under the heavy security, he faced a barrage of interrogation from security officials who included two white women, who did not disclose their nationality, but he later learnt they were from the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
They demanded to know his background, his alleged role in the attack and his connection with Somalia terror links.
He was alleged to have been found with a magazine full of ammunition at his bed while at the Aga Khan Hospital. “I hail from Nyeri and I was born in a Muslim family. I have never been to Somalia contrary to the numerous allegations they levelled against me,” he told the investigators.
Surprisingly, two of his relatives, who had attempted to visit him at the hospital, were also detained by police investigators as suspects. They were later released four days later without charges.
“As more investigators came in, I continued explaining that I was a family driver who was also a victim of the tragedy. It gradually appeared to them that I was innocent of the accusations. For a period of one week, no investigator appeared, and he spent most of the time in solitary detention without access to news or information from outside the room.
He was later released without charges after he was proved innocent. “I will never forget the ordeal,” he said.
One of the girls, Toronto-born Fardosa Abdi, suffered extensive gunshot injuries to her right leg and lower body, and from the impact of the explosion. Her leg has since been amputated in Toronto where their parents live.