On Saturday 21 September, as a number of gunmen from Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militant group began their assault on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic snapped a picture of a small girl running towards a man.
The image became one of the many iconic photographs from the attack, which dragged on for days, eventually leaving 72 dead and the mall in ruins. While few details were included with the Reuters description of the picture, the visual image of the small girl running alone to safety was striking enough for the image to go viral.
Now more details about the photograph — in particular, the black man holding a gun who is trying to reach the girl — have become known, and they’re remarkable.
The man’s name is Abdul Haji. The man in the photograph is not a member of security forces, just a humble citizen and a Muslim who is ethnically Somalian. He had rushed to the mall to find his brother.
Speaking to Kenya’s NTV television, Haji admitted that his first thought when he realised it was a terrorist attack was that men had come to attack his brother (the two men are sons of Mohamed Yusuf Haji, a Somali politician based in Kenya). Haji teamed up with plain-clothed police officers and a civilian security group and began working to get the people out of the building.
Asked by the hosts about the now iconic photograph, Haji said that his group were communicating with two women and their three children hiding behind the white table in the picture. After asking the women to run, they said they couldn’t do it with the three children at once, so Haji asked the eldest child to run towards them alone.
The full interview is below (the moment where Haji talks about the photograph begins at 14:30):
Haji isn’t the only one who has been found. The Daily Telegraph have identified the family of the girl in the photograph as four-year-old Portia Walton, the daughter of American expatriates.
“She’s not normally the kind of girl that would run to a stranger, particularly one with a gun,” her father told the Telegraph, adding that Portia seems fairly well after the attack, though she does want to stand a little closer to her parents than before.
Here’s another photograph taken by Tomasevic showing Haji:
Here’s a photograph of Katherine Walton, Portia’s mother, in the background carrying another child:
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