Bloodied but unbowed: Westgate attack through the alphabet

Abdul Haji helped get hostages out of Westgate on 21/09/13. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Heroes and heroines emerged from the chaos, their spirit towering above the ominous smoke and outlasting the gunfire

One of the most enduring images to come out of the Westgate Mall last Saturday was a sweaty police officer, gun in hand, carrying a baby to safety.

The little boy, unfazed by what was happening around him and staring straight into the camera, epitomised all that was right and wrong at Westgate.

Little Boy had absolutely no understanding of the geopolitics of this region, did not give a hoot about terrorism, and felt safe in the hands of the state.

To the casual observer, this photo stirred no passions, but to the initiated fellow who knows the sun will shine tomorrow no matter what, to the fellow who laughs off the ideologies preached by the modern-day terrorist, the photo effortlessly and efficiently illustrated Kenya at that testy hour.

Westgate, therefore, gives you and me the opportunity to celebrate our successes and examine our weaknesses, a chance to redefine ourselves and our individual places within this great nation. Below, the take-aways from the incident:

A: Abdul Haji

Nothing best captures the heroism of this man than the photo of a child running towards him that went viral on the day the first crack of gunfire was heard at Westgate. Abdul Haji represents all those selfless Kenyans — and there are many more — who braved the odds and put their lives on the line to save those trapped inside mall.

B: Blood

It flowed endlessly at Westgate, and for that individuals from all walks of life heeded calls from the government and humanitarian agencies to donate their own for the injured. Blind to race, tribe, economic status, all turned up to save the lives of those injured in the heinous attack.

C: Counselling

Counsellors and trained psychologists were dispatched to various hospitals to help those affected by the trauma of the attack. Experts warn that persons who witness such gory acts, both adults and children, must undergo counselling to prevent emotional breakdowns as a result of their recollections.

D: Deaths

Sixty-seven people have been confirmed dead as a result of the September 21 attack. The lives of mothers, children, brave soldiers, tourists, and visitors cut short in the most brutal and callous way. “It is a time of great pain and sorrow for all Kenyans,” the Church, united in grief, said in a statement condemning the attack.

E: East FM
Owned by Radio Africa Group, this Indian-targeted radio station was holding a children’s cooking competition on the rooftop of the mall when the madness started. The event, known as Junior Super Chef, had been co-sponsored by Bidco, and the gunmen did not hesitate to shoot at the little ones.

The death of one of the radio station’s presenters, Ruhila Adatia-Sood — who was six months pregnant — and the images of bloodied children running from the scene paint the callousness of the attackers in blood.

F: Flag

As always, this national symbol has united Kenyans under its wings and the diversity represented by it colours.

The colours of the Kenyan national flag are reflective of the peace enshrined in the Constitution, the national anthem, and the loyalty pledge, all united to embody the selflessness and sacrifices many before us made to secure the interests of this great nation. In honour of our fallen compatriots, we flew the flag at half-mast for three days.

G: Grenades and Guns

The attackers came armed with sophisticated guns and grenades, which they used to blast through the mall and kill dozens of people before security forces arrived at the scene with more lethal force. The guns have fallen silent, but the war on terror continues.

H: Hospitals
They were among the first and fastest to respond to the attack. The Aga Khan University Hospital, MP Shah, Guru Nanak, and Avenue hospitals received those injured, brought in by ambulances, and treated them in record time.

I: Investigators

Combing the scene include national teams, FBI, CID, German police, Canadian police, and Interpol agents. Questions have been raised about gaps in the intelligence network, with legislators calling for the removal of the NSIS top cadres — who have, however, exonerated themselves of blame, saying they warned of the impending attacks but the police took no action.

J: Jihadism

This is one of the most misunderstood Arabic words. Simply translated, it means to “struggle” or “strive” against evil thoughts, evil actions, and aggression against a person, family, society, or country. Religious fanatics have hijacked it to propagate a convoluted ideal called “holy war”.

But Muslim scholar, Dr Amir Ali, says any jihad must be performed according to Islamic rules and regulations, and only for the sake or in the service of Allah. In recent times, the difference between jihadism and terrorism is getting increasingly blurred.

K: Kofi Awonoor
This eminent Ghanaian poet, diplomat, academic, and cultural icon was in Nairobi for the Storymoja Hay Festival. He was at Westgate when the attackers stormed in and, sadly, did not come out alive. His works include Come Back, Ghana (1972), Ride Me, Memory (1973), Until the Morning After (1987), The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook (1992), and Herding the Lost Lamb (2002).His son survived the attack with injuries.

L: Lenku

The Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government has come under a lot of pressure in the past week for, his critics say, giving conflicting information about the attack.

Nothing could have prepared this man for the heat he faced as the official government spokesman charged with giving periodic updates on the progress of the campaign to neutralise the terrorists and free hostages.

He will learn the ropes, some say. But when?

M: Mobile money
Mobile money transfer services were harnessed as the fastest way to provide support for the victims and their families as Kenyans once again selflessly donated over Sh100 million towards a common kitty.

The funds raised will be administered by the Kenya Red Cross Society.
N: Nakumatt

This chain of supermarkets has become the face of corporate resilience in Kenya. Nakumatt has suffered — and, we must add, survived — tragedies that include demolitions and fires, and last Sunday Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and his family led shoppers to the Ukay branch of the outlet, a sign that it was unbowed by the pillaging and looting of its Westgate neighbour.

O: WeAreOne campaign

This has become an online show of solidarity as Kenyans tweet and Facebook their unity beyond race, ethnicity, and other forms of bigotry. Trending globally, it has been lauded as a patriotic show of togetherness by Kenyans and friends of this beloved country.

P: Pillage
There was patriotism, but then there was also pillage. Westgate traders have lost millions of shillings to goons who took advantage of the crisis to systematically ransack and loot premises. Banks and forex bureaus were cleaned of cash, jewellers targetted for their high-value stock, and anything of value filtched instead of protected.
Q: The Questions
Did the masterminds of this mayhem escape within an hour of launching the attack? Did those who remained behind to continue the senseless killing and repulse security forces also slip away unnoticed? Did some arms of government ignore intelligence warnings regarding this attack? How many died?

Where are the bodies of the slain attackers? And have we started checking who comes into our territory through whichever border post or immigration desk? Questions, questions, questions.
R: Red Cross
The charity organisation was among the first to respond to the attack, with secretary general Abbas Gullet personally commanding the risky rescue operation. Hats off to the ambulance operators, paramedics, and volunteers who raced to Ground Zero several times to save lives.

S: Social Media
It has its ills, but social media also has a side we must start using more. This time Facebook and Twitter provided second-by-second updates, including rallying support for Kenyans to donate blood, blankets, and other supplies.

However, the usual carelessness was evident in some posts, prompting the government to warn against rumour-mongering.
T: Terrorists

Red-alerts have been issued against individuals believed to be the masterminds of the Westgate attack. They include Ahmed Abdi Godane alias Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr (Al-Shabaab founder and overall commander), Sheikh Mukhta Robow alias Abu Mansur (Al-Shabaab deputy leader), Sheikh Ahmed Iman Ali, Samantha Lewthwaite alias White Widow, and Abu Sandheere (regional Al-Qaeda head).

U: Unbowed
The one word that Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai used for her autobiography captures the Kenyan spirit during the Westgate terror attack.

And when President Uhuru Kenyatta thundered from State House that our heads may have been “bloodied”, but were still “unbowed”, the nation stood up in unison, suddenly jolted into action by that very simple word.

V: Volunteers
Nothing best captures the spirit of volunteerism than the women who sacrificed their time and money to support, through food and drink, the rescue missions that braved the night chills during the rescue mission. These women proved to be true daughters of the soil.

W: White Widow
The nickname refers to Samantha Lewthwaite, the 29-year-old Irish widow of the London 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay. Samantha has been variously touted as the ring leader and mastermind of the Westgate attack.

X: Xenophobia

From the start, it emerged that the main purpose of the terrorists was to foster hatred between Muslims and Christians.

Tweets associated with the attackers sensationally claimed that the gunmen first released anyone who could prove that he or she was a Muslim before butchering the rest, yet a good number of Muslims died in the attack.

Luckily, Kenyans read the claims for what they were and embraced each other across religions.

Y: You, You and You!
Fighting terrorism is not only up to the national intelligence service and other security agents. You and I went through emotionally draining moments during the four-day siege. That should never happen again if we care to know who our neighbours are and report suspicious persons. This calls for collective responsibilty, for the active involvement of anyone who wishes this country well, and for any man and woman who has a conscience that is not clouded by misinformed, murderous passions.
Z: Zzzz!
Someone definitely slept on the job, but who? The intelligence services claim to have caught wind of the impending attack and informed the right agencies, yet nothing was done.

Last Sunday President Uhuru Kenyatta met with the nation’s security chiefs, and even though details of the meeting are scanty, there are indications that counter-terrorism strategies were on the agenda.

After Westgate, somebody had better wake up.


The estimated time when the attackers are said to have arrived at Westgate, brandishing weapons. Some were reported to have worn bandanas and there have been reports of a woman among them.


The time when, through a tweet, Somali-based terror group Al-Shabaab, an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union, finally claimed responsibility for the attack.


Time when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the number of the dead at the Westgate Mall, adding that Kenya would defeat the terrorists and that some of his relatives were in the mall.


Number of people killed in the attack: 61 civilians, three KDF soldiers, and three GSU officers.

The approximate number of persons reported injured by the time the four-day siege of the mall ended.

They were from various countries around the world, which explains the choice of Westage as a target because that way the terror group hoped to get good international attention.


+Sh100 million

Amount of money raised via mobile money transfer services to help victims of the attack.



Use this Red Cross hotline number to report any missing persons. The charity organisation also faciliated about 400 volunteer counsellors at Visa Oshwal and Uhuru Park during the past one week to help deal with the ensuing emotional distress.

Days of national mourning — during which flags flew at half-mast — following a presidential directive. “Our heads are bloodied,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said of the event, “but unbowed.”


The age of Samantha Lewthwaite, the Briton nicknamed The White Widow who is suspected to be one of the masterminds of the Westgate attack.

She is said to have lived in Kenya since 2007 and has several times escaped police dragnets, raising questions about the credibility of the police force.