Ex-Cheltenham TV reporter speaks of Kenya mall massacre
A KENYAN reporter who learned his trade studying in Cheltenham has spoken of the lack of “intense” security at a shopping mall in Nairobi where at least 62 people have been killed in a terrorist attack.
Hillary Okech, a part-time television reporter based in the city, told the Echo that he is not surprised an attack of this magnitude has occurred.
A British woman is thought to be among the militants who took part in the hostage situation at the shopping centre, which has been under siege since Saturday.
It was confirmed by Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed that al-Shabaab fighters were responsible for the attack.
Traditional Shave, Facial Treatment, Whisky and a Shoe Shine -...View details
Gents, enjoy a traditional shave, facial treatment, glass of whisky and a shoeshine for £31
Terms: Early and later appointments available upon request.
Contact: 01242 504887
Valid until: Tuesday, December 31 2013
Hillary, 31, who graduated from the University of Gloucestershire last November with an MA in Journalism, described the scene in his home city.
He said: “Westgate Mall is really an ideal mall to spend free time, as everything anyone could possibly need is available.
“As a background, mall security has never been high-tech, besides CCTV cameras. When the al-Shabaab threat was imminent in Kenya, a government directive was given that all people going into malls should have security checks.
“So, in some malls security would open car boots, while also checking the passenger seating area. Upon getting into the mall, hand-held metal detectors would be used to scan people through. Bags would be checked as well.
“Bear in mind, this process has never been intense or detailed. Sometimes guards would just go through the motions.
“Security searching procedures have been the norm at Westgate. As to what happened to security on the day of the attacks, no one knows yet. So I can’t say it was a definite security lapse.
“An attack of such magnitude obviously took some planning by the terrorists. Sad to say, the security flaws which were already present at the malls do not make such an attack surprising.”
Six Britons, including an eight-year-old girl, are among the 62 people killed.
“When the attacks happened on Saturday afternoon, no one really knew what was going on,” said Hillary.
“Witnesses also said the attackers were speaking in Swahili, the local language, as they communicated with each other.
“As the attackers walked into the mall, they fired at people indiscriminately. Some people ran out of the mall in panic, but while they thought they had escaped, they were gunned down by gunmen outside.
“Grenades were thrown at people who were eating at restaurants indoors. They were also thrown at frightened people huddled together with nowhere to run. Some infants were shot at point blank range.
“According to one witness, a five-year-old was killed this way.”
Blood donations have been made by thousands of people across the country and about £290,000 has been raised in aid of victims and their families.
Hillary continued: “Fortunately my friends and family are safe although other people were not so lucky.
“In a country heavily divided by ethnic and political standing, we are for the first time in a while concerned about the wellbeing of fellow Kenyans.
“Hostage situations are the stuff we’ve only seen in Hollywood movies. For me, the attack hasn’t sunk in yet.”