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Sep 21, 2014 10:49 AM

Kenya marks 1 year since Westgate mall attack

The Associated Press

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) Relatives of the dead, survivors and shop owners converged outside Nairobi's Westgate Mall on Sunday, lighting candles and laying flowers in memory of those killed a year ago when four gunmen stormed the upscale mall.

The attack killed 67 people and left Kenya's capital unsettled for days as militants battled with security forces, and people trapped inside tried to flee the fighting.

A memorial plaque with names of the victims was also unveiled in a separate ceremony at a forest on the edge of the city where people hike. Later, a candlelight vigil will be held at a museum.

Amu Shah remembered his son Mitul, who was killed in the attack.

"We have been completely shattered; our lives are not as they used to be," Shah said. "He was very lively, very helpful, very cheerful. Anytime anyone needed any help, he was ready to go and help them. Even at night when someone was in problem, anybody wanted help, he would rush."

Police doubled patrols in Nairobi, chief David Kimaiyo said Saturday. They increased their presence in public places such as churches, supermarkets and malls after the police chief warned residents to be "extra vigilant" in the coming weeks in anticipation of more attacks.

Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility for the mall attack saying it was retribution for Kenya's troop presence in Somalia, the group's home base. More recently, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab vowed to avenge the death of their leader killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this month.

While some held memorial ceremonies to commemorate the Westgate attacks, others tried to forget.

Muimi Kiteme, 26, watched a football match Sunday in hopes it could help erase the memories of Sept. 21, 2013.

Kiteme was shot at by the terrorists when they arrived at the mall in a car some minutes past midday on that fateful day.

Since it was a weekend, the mall was packed with shoppers and families eating out, he said. Kiteme, who was a driver for a vegetable supply company, was driving his out of the malls service entrance into a junction, when a car sped past forcing him to stop, he said.

Four men disembarked from the car and he heard gunshots and his windscreen shattered.

"When we saw the car speed past us and the men with guns my assistant asked me if they were shooting a movie," Kiteme said. "When the windscreen shattered he was the first one out of the car. I turned back to talk to him and he was gone. I remained frozen in my seat"

He said he saw a man with a black turban point the gun in his direction and shoot. The bullet missed Kiteme and hit the cushion. Kiteme said he got the chance to escape when the gunman bended to pick up his black turban which dropped from his head.

"I opened the door and crawled under the car. I could see the gunman's feet as he walked around the car looking for me," he said

"I do not want remember. The things that I saw I want to forget this day. I am grateful to be alive, but I want to forget," he said.

According to the police reconstruction of events the four gunmen split into two groups. One pair went into the mall's main foot entrance as another went through the vehicle entrance, tossing grenades and spraying bullets at the people in vehicle and in the restaurants.

At a cooking competition on the parking grounds of the mall two of the terrorist massacred men, women and children.

A new HBO documentary, Terror at the Mall, by Emmy-nominated director Dan Reed which reviews CCTV footage from more than 100 cameras, says by the time Kenya's tactical teams from the military and the police went into the mall all hostages had been killed

The Kenya police force and army have been widely criticized for their response to the attack. It took at least two hours before the Kenya police tactical team went into the mall, leaving security guards and volunteers to fend for those inside.

Lack of coordination between the military and the police tactical teams led to friendly fire in which one police officer was killed and others wounded.

The police chief on Saturday rejected criticism that the security agencies were disorganized and uncoordinated leading to a slow response to the Westgate Mall attack.

"It was done professionally," he said.

The attackers were eventually killed by a fire caused by a high explosive rounds shot at the mall by the Kenyan military, a police official told The Associated Press on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the press about the investigation.

Four men, one of them a relative of the attackers, are facing terrorism related charges in court for the Westgate attack.


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