How love conquered terrorism

By Nyambega Gisesa, David Odongo and Moses Michira

Raisah Viranah, a 15-year-old girl, declined to move to the side of Muslims when terrorists ordered Muslims to leave Westgate mall.

She refused to budge to their command to leave her friends behind.

Angered by her stance, the terrorists shot at her twice leaving her soft muscles with two bullet wounds, one on the right hand and another on the back.

Raisah never wanted to leave the besieged mall to rush for medical help risking bleeding to death. She swore never to leave without her injured friend Harveen.

In a heroic deed, Raisah put Harveen on a Nakumatt supermarket trolley and pushed her until she arrived where paramedics were.

Another hero was Briton Simon Belcher, an owner of Safari Company, who was with his wife Amanda at Westgate when hell broke loose. He was shot trying to shield a four-year-old Kenyan boy from terrorist’s bullets.

The couple had just arrived at the mall when the attack began, and Simon hid under a car on the top floor with the child.

The safari tour operator is now recovering at Aga Khan Hospital.

A close friend of the couple, who asked not to be named, said: “When the firing started he got underneath a car. He was shielding a four-year-old Kenyan child who was also hiding there.

"They were all hidden in the top car park until the military began firing at the al Shabaab militia. The terrorists then all got under cars to escape the gunfire and that’s when they spotted Simon underneath a vehicle. They took a few shots at him and hit him in the shoulder. He was hurt but he saved the life of the boy.

Another survivor who dared the terrorists was Rahesh Saini who was rescued but went back to look for his wife inside the mall as terrorist bullets rent the air.

"There was no way I could leave without my wife and against the advice of the police, I went back alone, and climbed up to the first floor inside a shop where my wife and others were hiding," says Saini. He was on phone communication with his wife and he found her terrified alongside other shoppers. "Everyone was cowering in fear and I just held my wife tightly and prayed to God," says Saini, who is thankful that they had left their eight-year-old daughter at his brother’s house in Nairobi West. The couple was rescued after two hours. 

According to the Daily Mail, a four-year-old British boy confronted a marauding gunman and told him that he was a "very bad man." The boy was with his mother who had been shot in the leg and his six-year-old sister.

Bizarrely, the terrorists handed the children chocolate with one of them begging for forgiveness.

"Please forgive me, we are not monsters," the attacker told the children.

In one of the most moving moments from the attacker, a mother held her child inside her car as both of them were rained on with bullets at the mall’s parking lot.

Mitul Shah was not a household name till last weekend even though his family’s company Bidco is the biggest producer of cooking oils. But on that fateful Saturday, Mitul passed on after succumbing to multiple bullet wounds. He could have survived the attack, were it not for his courage to face off with the gunmen who were indiscriminately firing at the young children attending a cooking competition that his firm had sponsored.

Witness accounts show he came back several times to take the children to cover before he was finally hit. His elder brother Vimal Shah said he was proud of Mitul who had given his life to save others. 

It may as well be the most tragic end to a love story ever, the story of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s nephew Mbugua Mwangi and his fiancée — both shot dead. Mbugua and his soon-to-be wife Rosemary Wahito had gone to the high-end shopping mall to buy wedding rings.

Accounts from close family members indicate that the pair was at the jewellery shop inside the mall when the militants stormed the mall. Everyone was scampering to safety, and Mbugua escaped to safety, only to return when he noticed that his fiancée had remained trapped in the gunfire. He rushed back and literally shielded her from the heavy gunfire, as he tried to take her to safety.

Both later died from multiple gunshots.

While Mbugua was not as lucky to save his fiancée, and his own life, there were dozens of chilling stories from the attack where for love alone, hundreds of lives were saved.

Jared Odhiambo recounts what he describes as the most moving moment in his life when a mother, believed to be French, shielded her two children by lying on them when the gunmen struck. She had taken a bullet to her left leg and was in sheer pain.

One of the children was screaming at the mother’s injury and the pain of so many other victims who were lying nearby, close to the meat section of Nakumatt stores. The mother kept reassuring the children that it was all going to be fine, even when the firing never relented and bullets kept missing the family by inches. A white middle-aged man had been killed by a bullet to his head, just inches away.

Instead of experiencing the joy of becoming parents for the first time this week, Briton Ross Langdon died cradling his love Elif Yavuz over her heavy tummy.

The 33-year-old Ross died protecting the woman who was to have their first child this week.

Despite the danger, while inside the mall, hostages risked their lives to update security agencies on where fellow hostages were holed up in the building. They also kept informing the police location of the terrorists.

People like veteran photojournalist Joseph Mathenge assisted in the rare rescue of a hostage, a young woman trapped in Mr Price shop through exchanging messages with her and informing the police on her location.

Police officer Sergeant Tawfiq Baya was captured on camera with his MP5 gun in one hand and his other hand carrying a child he was rescuing from the mall where bullets where flying right and left.

But it was perhaps Abdul Haji, the son of Garissa governor and former Defence minister Yusuf Haji, who has been identified among the heroes who saved the most lives. The attackers were shooting at everyone on site, and the situation was bloody. He rushed to the scene armed with just a pistol and made his way in together with other undercover security personnel through the basement parking lot.

Abdul describes the scene as horrific, with so many dead and even more injured. They found their way to the rooftop parking on the second floor, well aware of the danger that was lurking as the shootings were unrelenting, and his brother could well have been the next victim.

Westgate united people from all walks of like- strangers donating blood to people they might never heard of before, medical staff rushing to treat casualties to volunteers who saved to the last man that they could.