Monday, 23 September 2013

Nairobi terror attack: a city mourns

Al-Shabaab, the Somali terror group, have ruthlessly and deliberately killed children in Kenya's capital city.

Westgate mall, Nairobi, Kenya

I stayed with some cousins in Nairobi not very long ago. Like all major cities, some areas have problems with violent crime but it generally felt idyllic. The streets were decorated with an abundance of beautiful trees and flowers. The locals were friendly and hospitable and Nairobi was within driving distance of both Mombasa's beaches and the famous Maasai Mara National Reserve - where media organisations such as the BBC regularly film wildlife documentaries. 

The city was going places. In 1996, the UN had opened its African headquarters there. Luxury malls like Westgate felt very 'first world', combining popular local chains such as Nakumatt with the sale of western imports. There was a visible tourist presence as well as a multicultural local community: the indigenous population, European settlers, South Asians (whose ancestors had moved here to work for the British during the colonial era) as well as thousands of Somalian refugees mixed freely on the streets. Nairobi was also home to numerous religions, with many sects of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism living peacefully side by side. 

Now, the whole of Kenya has been left in shock by the three days of terror inflicted at Westgate mall. Somalian extremists, Al-Shabaab, have taken responsibility for the siege. They proudly claim to have killed over 100 innocent people, although authorities have so far only confirmed 62 deaths - made up of civilians from at least 12 different nations. Al-Shabaab say the attacks are in retaliation to a recent invasion of Somalia by Kenyan forces. 

It is also emerging Al-Shabaab were willing to target even children. Nooruddin, a cousin of mine who studied at Nairobi's Oshwal Academy, lost classmate Pavraj Singh, 17. 

"Pavraj was murdered and so was his grandmother with him," says Nooruddin. "He completed his GCSEs this summer and had begun to study for his AS levels this month."

Nooruddin paid tribute to his classmate. "He was a good boy. He was a hockey player in the school team. A really talented guy. He was very respectful towards his teachers and all his fellow students. He was a Sikh but his best friend was a Muslim."

Another of Nooruddin's co-students has also been injured. A girl, 15, was shot three times and is currently undergoing surgery. The attackers must have been aware Westgate was popular both to tourists and local children. "My friends had seen the attackers arriving in their cars before. They must have been planning the attack," says Nooruddin. 

Nairobi's population has been left in dismay at the collective loss. Oshwal Academy is only one mile from the mall and its football pitches at the Oshwal Community Centre are being used for first aid. Chandni Joshi, a 21-year-old local student, sums up the city's horror: "[Outside of Westgate] we are safe and so are our families by the grace of God, but the situation here is horrible."

Kenya's president has vowed to 'swiftly' and 'painfully' punish the attackers. For the sake of Nairobi's residents, it is to be hoped the city will return to being the tolerant and peaceful home to people of many ethnicities and faiths it so recently was. @Taalay
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