Two Concern aid workers escape Nairobi siege

Irish aid agency’s offices close to Westgate

Kenyan soldiers combing the  the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi yesterday for militants.  Photograph: Noor Khamis/Reuters

Kenyan soldiers combing the the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi yesterday for militants. Photograph: Noor Khamis/Reuters

 


Two staff members from Irish aid agency Concern are safe after they were caught up in the militant siege of the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi at the weekend.

The two aid workers, Eritrean national Yacob Yasak who co-ordinates health and nutrition programmes in Kenya for Concern, and Kenyan-American data analyst Barbara Kagima, were at Westgate when the attack began on Saturday.

Mr Yasak was in the mall to buy some items for his wife who had given birth the previous day. He was in a cafe when the gunmen, believed to belong to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, opened fire and threw grenades inside the busy shopping centre. He hid in nearby toilets with dozens of other shoppers until they could make their escape.


Cafe hideout
Ms Kagima was in a separate cafe when the militants struck. She and other customers barricaded themselves into the kitchen. They were rescued three hours later.

Both Ms Kagima and Mr Yasak were unhurt.

“Both had quite traumatic experiences,” said Concern’s country director, Anne O’Mahony. “They gave us graphic briefings.”

Concern’s offices are just minutes away from Westgate, Nairobi’s biggest mall. “It is a very popular hangout spot, particularly at weekends,” said Ms O’Mahony. “It is one of those places where you are guaranteed to bump into someone you know.”

She described how the Kenyan capital was still in shock, with the siege continuing into its fourth day yesterday. “People are stunned and holding their breath as to what happens next,” she said. “There is constant noise, whether gunfire or helicopters overhead. We are glued to the unfolding events.”

Ms O’Mahony said people in Nairobi had grown complacent about the possibility of an attack. “Since Kenyan forces went to Somalia a few years ago, there had been an expectation that something could happen. There had been small incidents like improvised explosives, and Westgate was seen as a potential target but people became complacent.”