For the last one year, Brian Kuira, a survivor of last year’s al Shabaab attack at the Dusit D2 Hotel complex, has largely shielded himself from the ugly and traumatic reminders of the attack.
“Trying to keep it away from your memory is the best way to cope with it. I totally kept it out of my mind,” Kuira poignantly tells Standard, in an interview at his office in Nairobi.
Since the attack, Kuira says he has had just one major flashback when he returned to the complex after his rescue.
"I had a meeting I could not miss. During the cab ride to Dusit I recalled everything that happened. I had that feeling of remembrance,” he narrates.
On the day of the terror attack, Kuira had spent the better part of his day in a meeting room at the Dusit Hotel, holding strategy discussions with his colleagues and a client. Kuira recalls they were bound to stay at Dusit for long as the agenda of the meeting had to be completed that day.
"We went down to eat at 2pm We finished eating fast because we had to go back for the afternoon session. We went back up and at 3pm we heard the first blast. We thought it's the normal explosion of Kenya Power transformers, so we didn't think much of it. We looked out the window and saw people running out towards the gate,” Kuira recalls of the initial moments as the attack unfolded before any of the around 15 people in the room knew what was happening.
"We heard the second blast by then some of my colleagues had left the room, I don't know where they went. We looked outside the window again and saw people running down. Then we heard gunshots and that's when we realized something was wrong,” he continues.
At this realization, Kuira says, their first instinct was to get to safety.
"One of the guys at the meeting had a room at the hotel. We didn't think it was safe to go outside because people were running frantically. I called two of my colleagues and they were already at the Westlands roundabout. Six of us went upstairs into the room. Two of us hid in the bathroom, one behind a curtain, one behind the bed, I was under the table but directly facing the door,” he recounts.
For nearly five hours, the six patiently waited inside the room, aware that they could die if they left the room, since all they could hear was gunshots, both inside and outside the building. Kuira describes the moment as frightening.
Peeping out of the window, Kuira and his colleagues could clearly see armed personnel and civilians responding to the attack.
Kuira was one of the first victims to speak out, even as the attack unveiled.
“We’re stuck at Dusit, gunshots everywhere,” he tweeted at 3:31 p.m., as the ambush by Al Shabaab went down.
After that tweet, and finding out from social media that the Dusit complex was under attack by Al Shabaab, Kuira says, he kept away from social media, instead keeping in touch with his friends via text.
"I texted a friend who works at the American Embassy. He knew which room we were in. We were told to stay in there, he reveals. Keeping in touch with his friends calmed him, he says, since it gave him the awareness that he was not alone and there were people on the outside working to have them rescued.
As they waited, Kuira and his colleagues continued to hear loud bangs and shots inside the hotel, but were unaware of what was happening.
Occasionally, Kuira says, there were huge lapses of silence, after which the bangs and shots resumed.
"You don't know if you're going to make it out alive or not. You hear bangs and gunshots, but you don't know exactly what is going on. That level of uncertainty was unnerving,” he notes.
"The Recce guys came to rescue us at 8 p.m. Since they didn't have key cards to access the rooms, they were blowing the doors,” he says.
Finally, the Recce squad reached the room Kuira and his colleagues were hidden in, what he describes as the scariest moment of the ordeal for him. Even then, Kuira was unsure whether it was the terrorists who had come to kill them or the security forces who had come to their rescue.
The officers rescued Kuira and four of his colleagues, leaving behind one who had hid himself under the bed. He would be rescued moments later.
Kuira describes the walk down the stairs from their sixth floor room as a daunting walk down a trail of destruction, tiptoeing on shattered glass.
However, the officers who rescued them gave them the much needed hope and reassurance.
"The Recce squad was very professional. The whole journey down the stairs, they kept assuring us. They told us to relax, that they would get us out. It was very comforting,” Kuira recollects.
At the time, Kuira reveals, the Al Shabaab had confined themselves in the hotel, engaging the security personel.
"When we got to the first floor they told us to wait for them to clear the floor. We stayed there for three minutes, hearing shots as they cleared the floor,” Kuira says, describing a feeling of vulnerability that came over him due to feeling like they were open targets. At that moment, he told Standard, he wondered why the officers rescued them before clearing all the floors, since he felt they were exposed.
When they reached the ground floor, the Recce squad searched and directed them into the lobby, as snipers cleared the premises.
"It was scary. At least in the room we were confined, but here we were exposed, even though there were cops everywhere,” Kuira says, stating that some of his colleagues were shaking.
They sat on the floor of the lobby for about 20 minutes, until an armored car came for them, safely taking them out of the complex. After the rescue, he went back to the office, taking time to recollect himself before going home.
The immediate aftermath of the attack took an immense toll on Kuira. He recollects being unable to sleep for the first two nights, any slight sound jerked him.
But since then, he says, the recovery has been easy. A week later, Kuira and his colleagues got back all the items they had left at the hotel, resumed work, and resumed life as normal, putting the tragedy behind them.
Several months after the attack, Kuira recalls feeling slightly nervous on the cab ride to the complex, as memories of the attack rushed in, but he strangely felt safe once inside.
"I went to Dusit once for a meeting. The security is more advanced, which is a good lesson. It made me feel a bit safer walking in,” he reveals.
One year later, Kuira says he remains eternally grateful to the Kenyan forces who swooped into Dusit, putting their lives on the line to save those trapped.
"I will be forever grateful to the Recce squad who came to get us. They kept repeating to us that we are safe down the six flight of stairs. We were in a building with terrorists, walking down an open flight of stairs. They were very professional. Our cops take a lot of flak but they are very professional
"You remember that they have families at home but they are risking their lives to save yours,” he says.