Two security consultants raced to the Westgate mall when al-Shabaab gunmen went on the rampage. Under fire, they organised the rescue of terrified shoppers
A little after half-past midday on a sunny Saturday a disturbing call came through to Mark and John at the Nairobi offices of the oil company for which they work. Gunshots had been heard at Nairobi’s plushest shopping mall, Westgate, and it was suspected that a robbery was in progress. The security consultants, one an ex-SAS officer and the other a former Irish Ranger, immediately began work on the assumption that it was a terrorist attack.
Within 10 minutes they had contacted all the firm’s staff and ascertained that two were inside the mall. They phoned them, to find they were hiding in Westgate’s second-floor sushi restaurant, Onami. They told them to stay where they were and the decision was taken to attempt a rescue.
What followed – reconstructed with witness testimony, photographs, video footage and interviews with friends of one of the security men – gives the clearest account yet of official failures, missed opportunities and individual bravery in what is one of the worst-disclosed terrorist attacks on record.
Arriving in the Kenyan capital’s shopping and nightlife district of Westlands, Mark and John (not their real names) found that there was no police cordon in place. Bodies were still strewn across the balcony of a ground-floor cafe and gunshots could be heard echoing inside the mall.
They walked into the basement along the exit ramp from the underground car park and made it most of the way to the entrance stairwell before gunfire forced them to retreat.
Coming back out the way they had gone in, they took cover in the cargo area when Mark noticed a crowd of more than 100 people cowering behind an armoured cash-delivery truck.
They approached the terrified people and organised them into pairs to make the dash to the comparative safety of the main road, where a crowd of survivors and onlookers was already beginning to gather. As panicked shoppers and mall staff ran the gauntlet, Mark and John kept watch on the top of the building. Shots could be heard coming from the rooftop car park.
That was when a bloodied hand waved from the rooftop and they took the fateful decision to climb the external fire escape that led into the Java House coffee shop.
Mark, who served for 18 years in the British army, much of it in the SAS, took charge. They persuaded two plainclothes Kenyan police reservists and two more police with AK-47 assault rifles to accompany them up the fire escape towards the shooting.
At the top they went into the coffee shop storeroom and found another group of 100 people sheltering inside. One of the Kenyan police with a rifle was detailed to secure the exit stairs, while they persuaded the terrified people, many of whom had witnessed a bloodbath in the car park outside, to climb down to the ground floor.
There was carnage in the cafe: at least 20 people were …read more