The Westgate Mall in Nairobi was the pride and joy of Kenya’s burgeoning consumer class. The five-story structure with vaulted ceilings and marble floors was filled with stores with Western names and carrying Western goods. It was even home to a giant casino. Partially owned by Israelis, the luxury mall was a shopper’s haven for Kenyans, tourists, foreign officials and expatriates.
But all of that changed at 12:30 pm on Saturday, September 21 when a group of insurgents entered the mall through a main entrance, immediately firing automatic weapons and, as one eye witness reported, throwing hand grenades “like feed to chickens.” Estimates are that 12 to 18 terrorists from the Al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab carried out the raid that left 72 dead and over 200 injured.
In a short time, several additional groups of terrorists entered other parts of the mall, and for 80 hours, merciless killers stalked the hallways and shops, slaughtering innocent men, women and children, while shouting for Muslims to identify themselves so they could flee the building unharmed.
Survivor reports have told of the heroism of a handful of Kenyan police officers, one off-duty British soldier and one Israeli security guard who fought valiantly against the armed militia, attempting to protect hundreds of shoppers for the nearly five hours it took for the Kenyan military to arrive and set up a command post.
On Monday, September 23, four huge blasts rocked the building eventually causing much of it to collapse, and by Tuesday afternoon, the Kenyan government announced that the siege was over.
Among the dead were 18 foreigners, citizens of Great Britain, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China. Five Americans were among the wounded.
Kenya is no stranger to terror. It was the scene of one of Al Qaeda’s first major attacks in 1998 when a bomb devastated the US embassy in Nairobi killing over 200. And Israeli interests have specifically been targeted in the past as well. In 2002, an Israeli-owned hotel was bombed in the city of Mombasa killing 15 people. At the same time, a rocket was fired at an Israeli plane carrying 264 passengers that had just taken off from the Mombasa airport. Fortunately, the attempt to bring it down was unsuccessful.
Although Israel’s diplomatic ties with Kenya have been erratic due to Muslim pressure on the Kenyan government, the relationship is currently favorable. Israel has an embassy in Nairobi while Kenya has one in Tel Aviv. And throughout the decades, Israel has provided assistance to this African nation.
As early as 1963, trainees from Kenya were being flown to Israel to be trained in agriculture and medicine. In 1991, Israel spear-headed an irrigation project in Kenya while in 2003, Kenya requested Israel’s help in developing a national solar energy strategy. Israel also provides developmental aid and is helping Kenya draw up and execute a national disaster management plan. In 2006, Israel sent a search and rescue team of 80 disaster and relief experts when a multi-story building collapsed and in 2007, donated tons of medical supplies during riots that followed the national presidential election.
In late 2012, Israel attempted to assist Kenya again, this time with intelligence reports. Iran, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah were looking to attack targets in Kenya, the reports indicated, some of them Israeli. Information pinpointed mid-September as the likely time frame and a list of potential targets was provided. Among them was the Westgate Mall.
Yet Israel was there to assist the Kenyan government in handling the crisis even though their warnings were ignored. Within hours of the attack on September 21, Israel dispatched a team of experts to advise authorities on the bloody standoff. Kenyan security officials also reported that Israeli combat teams were sent in on the second day of the siege to help rescue hostages and care for the injured.
However, Israel’s most significant contribution may have come after the fighting ceased. Israeli forensics experts have been on site since the siege ended, helping Kenyans comb the area for evidence. The gruesome task of collecting DNA samples, identifying bodies and searching the massive site for clues that may help identify and capture remaining perpetrators is monumental, and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has publicly acknowledged Israel’s invaluable assistance.
For such a small nation with no shortage of problems, Israel has a remarkable record for assisting other nations in need. Their Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site says this:
Even after years of provocation, rocket attacks and bombings, Israel defies terror organizations and works to uphold the highest standards of assistance and support to civilians everywhere, whether it’s in Asia, Africa, Europe, Iraq or the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has a heightened sense of humanitarian awareness and responsibility, with aid teams poised to respond in the wake of natural or man-made disasters anywhere in the world.
From Haiti to Japan, New Orleans to Pakistan, Indonesia to the Westgate Mall, God’s chosen nation continues to fulfill their calling as a light to the nations, bringing relief and saving lives to the honor of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Source: Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
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