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Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

Friday September 19, 2014

NAIROBI-One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident.  

Victims are still waiting for the answer to one question: 'How could this happen?'

All is quiet at the now-empty Westgate Mall. Construction crews are working to restore the building that, a year earlier, was the scene of unimaginable horror.

At midday on Saturday, September 21, 2013, four gunmen from the Islamist al-Shabab militant group stormed the mall, firing at anyone in their path -- killing 67 people and wounding hundreds more.

They say they did it out of revenge for Kenya's military operations in Somalia.

In a series of events that are still unclear, it took Kenyan forces four days to declare the mall free and clear.

Karsan and Harish Rabadia were the first civilians to get to the scene. One was armed with pistol and the other with nothing. They helped the injured escape the mall.

Today the two are regarded as heroes. But Karsan said behind the courage lies regret, bitterness and pain.

"Those who were killed… it [is] still in my mind. It’s now one year, that’s not far… it will be very hard for me to forget what happened here in my life," said Karsan.

Kenyan First Lady Margaret Kenyatta opened a memorial exhibit in Nairobi dedicated to the survivors as well as to the civilians who risked their lives to rescue those trapped in the mall during the early, chaotic hours of the attack.

 “Our resilience is incomparable. The unity we show in times of crisis should never be forgotten. And as I have said many times before, we should always be our brother's keeper,” said Kenyatta.

Kenyans are still trying to come to grips with what happened that day.

A parliamentary inquiry said the government had been warned of a possible terrorist attack on the mall.

Kenyan security forces were blamed for a delayed and unorganized response that may have cost lives. Soldiers were caught on security cameras looting the mall after the attack.

Ambi Ghautarhae, who lost his mother and his son in the attack, said he and his family are still searching for answers.

 “Who were these people? How did they just walk into a shopping mall where our children used to go every Saturday?” asked Ghautarhae.

Harveen Sihra, Ghautarhae's 16-year-old niece, was shot three times.

While she has physically recovered, she said she still thinks about it every day.  Sorting through the mental images gives her some relief, but this anniversary is especially difficult.

“If you speak to a person who hasn't lost someone, they can say 'I feel a bit better after one year.' But for us, it's still the same because we lost someone,” said Sihra.

No one knows when Westgate will reopen. And the survivors, one year later, still feel the echoes of the terror.


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