Nairobi attack: Eyewitness accounts


Orthodontist relives horror of attack

Orthodontist Sunil Sachdeva was working in his dental practice on the top floor of Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi when it came under attack.

In an interview with Evan Davis for BBC Radio 4'sToday programme, he describes how his son came to help rescue 23 people who were hiding in the surgery.

Satpal Singh: Rescued frightened shoppers

Satpal Singh was in the Java cafe when he first became aware the mall was under attack.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast's Bill Turnbull, he described what happened when the gunfire started. He said nobody was doing anything to help - so he felt he had to act.

Kids' cookery competition attacked

Radio presenter Kamal Kaur was at the mall with her two young children. She was one of the hosts of a children's cookery competition on the second floor roof terrace.

She told the BBC World Service Newshour programme that the militants first threw a grenade at them and then opened fire.

Shop manager hid from gunmen

A woman, believed to be a manager at the Westgate centre, has told how she escaped from the gunmen.

The woman said she hid under shopping trolleys outside the Nakumatt supermarket before crawling to her office to wait for help.

At least 65 people have been killed in a terror attack on a Nairobi shopping centre in Kenya.

Between 12 and 15 militants stormed the Westgate centre on Saturday, throwing grenades and firing on shoppers and staff. The mall was packed with shoppers and people sitting down to lunch on Saturday.

A cooking competition involving up to 50 children was also taking place on the mall's rooftop car park, near a second floor entrance.

Some of those who escaped from the mall have been speaking to BBC News. Here are their stories:

Mohammed Shajeel Mughal
  • Shop manager at Westgate shopping centre
  • Hid for seven hours in his shop
  • Was rescued by police

"I could hear a lot of shooting. I didn't know what was going on.

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We walked past casualties as we left”

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At first I thought it was a bank robbery or a jewellery robbery. Then friends started to call me. They told me not to make myself visible, turn off all the lights and put all phones on silent.

As I closed up I saw a white woman who didn't know where to go. I let her in and closed the door. There were four staff and three customers in our shop.

We were stuck there for seven hours. The first four hours were the hardest. We could hear shooting and I could see feet moving past the door. We felt like sitting ducks. Some of my staff were breaking down.

One of my customers wanted to go out and asked me to open the door. We managed to calm him down. Then news came in from my friends that police had entered the building and were coming to get us. It was some relief.

I am so grateful to my boss as he let the police know where we were.

We only had a small window of opportunity to escape. We walked past casualties as we left. It was terrifying."

Sunil Sachdeva
  • Orthodontist trapped in his surgery on 4th floor
  • Wife trapped on ground floor
  • Rescued by plainclothes police officers

"We heard a lot of noise - we assumed something had collapsed or there had been an explosion. We didn't realise it was happening inside the shopping centre.

I am an orthodontist and my wife is a dentist - our surgery is on the fourth floor of the Westgate Centre. We looked out of the window and saw people running away from the rooftop parking lot.

Then three men armed with guns appeared in the car park and opened fire. I would guess it was a two-pronged attack because my driver saw two different guys with guns at another entrance.

We saw bodies on the ground so we all lay down in the surgery to hide.

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We all lay down in the surgery to hide”

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My wife was trapped on the ground floor - she had been on her way to a salon appointment and she hid in a shop. I was able to call her and speak to her - I told her to hide in a side room. I tried to get to her - when I went to the ground floor I saw a dead pregnant woman lying on the ground.

Eventually our batteries died and we were no longer able to communicate, which was very worrying.

Finally my son managed to bring four plainclothes officers to our surgery who freed us. My wife managed to escape about half an hour later. I stayed at the scene to help the Red Cross with the injured.

I've just arrived home.

The casualty figures are terrible, I saw about 12 dead bodies."

  • Took refuge in the Nakumatt supermarket
  • Saw staff help shoppers find refuge
  • Rescued at 15:30 on Saturday

"I am no hero, but if there is one thing that has come out of the terrible attack on Westgate mall these past few days, is that there are many heroes in Nairobi today.

I ran into the Nakumatt supermarket when the attack started and a wave of people came into the mall in a state of panic.

Paramedics run for cover amid shooting at Westgate Shopping Mall Volunteers took cover as militants started shooting

Whilst trying to duck for cover themselves, some staff at the supermarket made it easier for those seeking refuge to hide and take cover.

During my three-hour period of hiding, until the time we were rescued around 3.30pm on Saturday by security personnel, several staff came to check on us and talk to us in order to reassure people and help one woman who had been injured during the first round of gunfire.

It seems so unreal, even with helicopters still circling the mall, which I hear overhead.

We were some of the lucky ones.

I will always think of the courage of the rescuers and the acts of kindness and bravery from individual strangers. Under these sad circumstances, Kenyans continue to inspire as we wait for peace to prevail."

Sonia Hanspaul Vijen
  • Heard gunfire close to coffee area
  • Tried to escape via a bakery with hundreds of others under fire
  • Hid in a stairwell for an hour and a half

"I left my father sitting in the Dorman's coffee area with one of our engineers and an associate he was meeting.

My husband and I made our way into Nakumatt to do some shopping. A few minutes later I heard a rain of hundreds of bullets in a span of less than a minute.

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Everyone was in a panic and running around searching for cover”

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I began running towards to my dad, the same direction the bullets were coming from.

My husband pulled me back and went to see if my father was there. He came back and told me the area was clear.

I ran towards the bakery that led to an escape area. There were hundreds of other people running in the same direction.

As we approached there was more rapid fire. There was a little stampede and in every direction we ran there seemed to be hundreds of bullets being fired.

Everyone was in a panic and running around searching for cover.

There was an African lady and I remember screaming at her 'you've been shot, you've been shot', because when you're in shock you don't really know that you're injured.

There were about 100 of us lying on the floor, my husband and I were hiding behind wheelbarrows and other people were behind the shelves and we knew any minute they would come for us.

That's when the Nakumatt staff opened the fire exit into the stairwell. We rushed in. There were about 80 or 90 of us in there. There was no air, no light and no water. We just tried to stay as quiet as possible in the hope they wouldn't find us.

We were in there for about an hour and a half.

A woman is led to safety by security guards A woman is led to safety by security guards

As I'm a pharmacologist, I decided to step up and help.

I ran down to the ground floor exit door where we had entered from. I saw bodies and pools of blood.

I ran towards an Indian lady who had multiple grenade injuries. Her husband was less injured.

We were talking to her, asking her to breathe, bandaging her legs and feet and back, and there was blood everywhere on her white jeans, my clothes had her blood on them too.

As we finished providing first aid, some security staff from Westgate came through the door saying an ambulance was here.

We picked up the injured and began making our way into the basement. We had no escort, no police.

We entered a service lift and went to the ground floor. As the lift opened, I saw an Indian civilian shooting into an alleyway and giving us fire cover. He asked us to run out into the open. As we ran out, we eventually saw a few Indians at the main exit gate waving their hands telling us to run.

We ran like never before. My first thought when I got outside was for my father. I was sure he was dead.

I remember telling the injured man to stay with the woman I had bandaged, she would be taken to hospital and I was worried they might lose each other.

Just as I was saying this I looked up and saw my father. He was fine.

He said the attackers started firing at the security gate to the mall, which was a little way away from where they had been sitting, so he had two minutes to run.

The engineer he was with held his hand and pulled him towards the other side and they went through the Nakumatt store where they hid. Eventually he got out, about an hour later I escaped too."

Kamal Kaur
  • Radio presenter at the mall with her two children
  • Was watching the children's cookery competition
  • Was friends with radio presenter Ruhila who was killed in the attack

"From what I can remember it was about between 1215 and 1230 when we heard the loud noises. I didn't realise what it was at first, then I rushed inside to look for my children who had gone to get some pizza.

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The bullet missed my son by just an inch”

End Quote

Fortunately my children had run back out to me when they heard the noise.

We tried to get all the children into one area. There must have been about 20 or 30 children in the outside bit.

A grenade was thrown at us and it went off. At the same time the attacker shot at us. The bullet missed my son by just an inch. It bounced off the wall and hit the boy who was next to him.

I was trying to pull the little boy down but unfortunately the bullet hit him and we all collapsed to the ground and we were trying to lay low.

Then the attacker came out again with his big rifle. My daughter kept whispering to everybody 'pretend you're dead! Pretend you're dead! He won't shoot. Pretend you're dead'.

This might sound ridiculous but I got my phone out and was actually googling how to react in a hostage situation.

After a while - an hour later - a security guard came. They contained the area and started exiting us through the service area of the coffee shop.

My children were both hurt; they got shrapnel in their legs. My daughter was hurt badly and was carried out by a good Samaritan. I could see my little boy. He was holding a little girl's hand and he helped her out.

We were taken to the nearest hospital.

My daughter is very devastated because my colleague Ruhila, she was six months pregnant and she lost her life and we're very devastated about that.

Karan Samani
  • Saw mother shot and wounded
  • Hid under a table on the first floor for an hour
  • Rescued hours later by security

"Suddenly we heard this really loud bang, followed by shooting. There was just a random spraying of bullets.

We all went under the table. There was glass everywhere. Unfortunately my mum started running when she should have got down on the ground.

She got a bullet in her back and one in her arm.

We turned to the right, to the loading zone, where they kept all the stock for the supermarket and we heard shooting again and people screaming and running.

So we went to the first floor and went to the small room where we hid under the table for around an hour.

About an hour later we heard that it was fine to escape. We started running and again we heard gun shots and people screaming.

We hid inside one of the shelves. I removed all the boxes, told my mum to go inside and hid her under the boxes. We were there for around four hours.

My grandfather managed to escape around two-and-a-half hours later. He managed to come back with some officers and they managed to open up the shutters and get us out."

Moe Rabie Ibrahim
  • Heard explosions and saw attackers shooting at the open-air restaurant
  • Saw a man shot in the car park while running away

"I live in an apartment opposite the shopping mall and was sitting on my balcony with my sister when the shooting started. We had been arguing because she wanted me to go to Westgate to buy a feather duster but I didn't want to because I was tired.

I heard three explosions and then saw two guys spraying bullets in the air. I saw many people being shot down as they were trying to run away.

The attackers started shooting in the open-air restaurant and three people were shot down by the roundabout. Then the attackers went inside the shopping centre and you could hear gun shots from inside the building.

One of the attackers was wearing all black: Black trousers and a black jacket with a grey scarf around his face. He was tall and thin and had dark skin. The other one with him had jeans and a red jacket and was a bit shorter than him.

They shot a man as he was running away in the parking lobby. They shot at him a lot of times while he was lying down.

The saddest thing was when I saw it on the news half an hour later and police said four people had been injured but I knew it was much more because I had seen the bodies on the ground, probably about 10 of them, that were cleared away.

I rang my parents who were out at the time and told them to stay away. I told my sister to go into their room with the housekeeper and stay there because we didn't know what was happening.

I heard the gunshots from inside the building and then saw two people on the roof of the building. I don't know whether it was the same people or others but they were standing on the roof firing down at the people below."

Hannah Chisholm
  • Heard gunfire while at the supermarket checkout
  • Took refuge in store room with about 60 other people
  • Hid inside box - rescued by plain clothes police after four hours

"I'm from England but am staying in Nairobi at the moment. I was shopping in the supermarket when we started hearing gunfire while we were at the checkout.

Five minutes before the gunfire, the lights went out and then came back on.

I was there with my driver.

Security help a wounded woman outside the shopping centre Security help a wounded woman outside the shopping centre

We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom. There were children hiding with us as well as someone who had been shot.

The gunfire was loud and we were scared but at that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn't try to reach the storeroom.

However, we gradually began to hear conflicting reports suggesting that terrorists could be responsible and that people were being killed. This was terrifying.

We hid in boxes and we tried to escape once when we were told it was safe. We almost made it to the door but they started firing again so we ran back.

We were rescued by plainclothes officers after about four hours."

Surajit Borkakyoty
  • Heard shooting from below while sitting in a coffee shop
  • Hid in coffee shop cupboard - moved fridges and freezers to block passageway

"We went to the Westgate Mall. It is the place people go to at the weekend.

We ordered our coffee and were just there drinking when all of a sudden we heard gun shots from the floors below.

People started running everywhere.

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It was like a war situation”

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It sounded like there was gunshot coming from the roof too. It was total, total chaos.

We hid inside a cupboard in the coffee shop. The staff then took us to the kitchen. There were about 20 of us. We moved the fridges and freezers to block the passageways.

We were very, very scared.

It was a small space, people were panicking, children were crying. We were trying to calm people and tell them not to use their phones, or to keep them on silent.

All the time we could hear gun fire. It was a war like situation.

We were there for two or three hours before the police came. They rescued us. We escaped the building with them, and went to the roof and down a fire escape. We didn't see anything on the way out.

I'm just glad we went to a different coffee house today, that decision could have saved our lives."

Eiman Algharir
  • Saw people running and heard gunfire from dentist's on fourth floor
  • Rescued by armed police via the car park

"I'm fine, a bit shaken up, but fine. I got out after about four hours.

I was at the dentist, on the fourth floor. The wall was glass so we could see through it. It was a normal Saturday with lots of families having a nice time.

Then all of a sudden people started running in different directions. Then I heard gunfire.

My dentist looked through the glass window, he was brave, he could see a man with a big gun.

The police got us out, after one of the people I was with managed to get hold of the police and tell them exactly where we were hiding. They came and got us carrying machine guns to secure the way. And we made it to the car parking lot.

This is my third year in Nairobi. You always hear that such things are possible. I'm still shaking."

Police take cover outside Westgate shopping centre where gunmen went on a shooting spree in Nairobi on 21 September 2013. Police and security forces surrounded the Westgate centre

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