Department stores and shopping centres are massive, confusing places at the best of times.
In the worst of times, they become the stuff of nightmares. Specifically those nightmares in which danger and death are just a heartbeat away, out of sight yet mind-numbingly close, and all you know is noise, fear and confusion.
In the bigger stores, product placement ensures line-of-sight just doesn’t exist. Here’s a terrifying video that shows why they’re exactly where you don’t want to be when the shooting starts:
The body count that has risen since gunmen opened fire in the Nairobi Westgate shopping centre on Saturday night has risen to 68. Kenya Defence Forces claim to have control over the situation, but the toll is expected to rise.
And now the eyewitness accounts are coming in from people who were literally on the ground while the bullets and grenades were flying, here’s some quotes that give you a harrowing idea of what it’s like to know death could be just seconds away:
Greg Aldous, NZ national living in Kenya, hid in a box for an hour before making a frantic dash for freedom through a car park.
One of the snipers shot a dude about 10 metres away, just a guy, just a waiter.
We were petrified, it was a terrifying situation. They were coming in through the front, they were coming in through the back and we were just sitting ducks … They are horrible people.
Manish Turohit, 18, hid in a parking garage for two hours.
They just came in and threw a grenade. We were running and they opened fire. They were shouting and firing.
“Cecilia” hid under a vehicle in the basement car park.
They were shooting from the exit ramp, shooting everywhere.
I saw people being shot all around me, some with blood pouring from bad wounds. I was just praying, praying God keep me alive and that my day hadn’t come.
Hannah Chisholm, a Briton visiting Nairobi, told the BBC she and dozens of others barricaded themselves into a large storeroom.
We kept running to different places but the shots were getting louder so we barricaded ourselves along with about 60 others into a large storeroom.
There were children with us as well as someone who had been shot. The gunfire was loud and we were scared but at that point we thought the gunmen were thieves so we assumed they wouldn’t try to reach the storeroom.
Arjen Westra told the BBC he was sitting in a cafe drinking coffee when the gunfire erupted.
The gunfire moved into the shopping mall and people started running. I could hear people screaming and people crying around me, everyone was lying flat on the ground.
Sudjar Singh works in the shopping mall.
The gunmen tried to fire at my head but missed. There are definitely many casualties.
Surajit Borkakoty was in the mall at the time of the shooting and told the BBC.
We hid inside a cupboard in the coffee shop. The staff then took us to the kitchen.
We moved the fridges and freezers to block the passageways. It was a small space, people were panicking, children were crying.
We were trying to calm people and tell them not to use their phones, or to keep them on silent. All the time we could hear gun fire. It was a war like situation.
The BBC was contacted by email by someone who was hiding at the scene.
Am hiding in a store, my next person (is) an Indian shot. Severe shooting going on within the premises. I left (a) parcel in my car mid of the road, praying.
Thugs inside, we don’t know when the police will rescue us, all over TVs and radio, we are warned not to move, am in a dark store, more police coming.
Al Graziano, who escaped after hiding in a Mr Price clothing story for five hours.
There was a bang, an explosion, and I though it must be a car crash but then the shooting started.
We were hiding in Mr Price, maybe 30 or 40 of us. It was unnerving: the entire ground floor of the mall was empty and we could just hear shooting, shooting every minute.
— Peter G. (@gnrpeter) September 21, 2013
Explosions and ammunition fire aside, the most frightening part for non-Muslims at the mall came when they realised they were being specifically targeted.
Before its Twitter account @HSM_Press was suspended, al-Shabab’s “press office” tweeted this:
Spare a thought for those hostages told to recite a Muslim prayer while a gun was held to their head.
— Zach Seward (@zseward) September 21, 2013
No, they were not bluffing.
Joshua Hakim had stopped for a snack on his way to watch a rugby match. When one of the bursts of firing stopped, the attackers called for Muslims to identify themselves and leave.
“An Indian man came forward and they said, ‘What is the name of Muhammad’s mother?’,” he told The Guardian.
“When he couldn’t answer they just shot him.”
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