NAIROBI, October 21, 2013 (AFP) – Mourners from Kenya’s various colours and creeds gathered in the capital Nairobi Monday for an emotional ceremony marking one month since gunmen massacred close to 70 people in a mall.
Relatives of the victims of the four-day siege at the upmarket Westgate mall planted trees, lit candles and held prayers for the dead, with members of Kenya’s black, white and Asian community putting on a display of unity.
Uthra Krishnan, a friend of one of the victims, said she was still in shock.
“When we are at the shopping places, there’s still the images of the victims, the evacuees we saw on the TV, still linger over our mind. And, you know, somehow we are just trying to come out of it,” she said.
“This is the right thing you can do in remembrance of the people who lost their valuable lives in the event. Tree planting is such an exercise, you know, at least we are giving birth to a new life, after the thing. So we can remember them when we see nature.”
Njoroge Karanja, chairman of the Friends of Karura Forest who helped organise the memorial ceremony, said the event was an important part of the healing process.
“In Kenya there are all kinds of people, from all walks of life, from all corners of the world who call Kenya their home. And that is what we ought to be building today. It hurts, it saddens us, but it does not break us. We are one,” he said.
The head of the private security firm in charge of Westgate, Securex, said he was there to honour his top guard, who was among the first to die when the gunmen walked into the mall at midday on September 21.
“The person in charge of security was the first person to get shot. He tried to warn the people in the mall. But unfortunately he was shot, and he passed away. That’s why I’m here today,” Tony Sahni said.
“It was a brutal killing which took place… We’re not able to explain how gruesome it was,” said Thiagarajan Ramamurthy, regional director of the Nakumatt supermarket chain — whose Westgate branch was the scene of many of the deaths.
Somalia’s Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels claimed its fighters carried out the attack in retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia.
The memorial comes amid mounting criticism of the Kenyan army, with the emergence of new CCTV footage that appears to show Kenyan soldiers carrying loot out of the besieged mall.
Images obtained by AFP showed troops walking into the complex armed and then leaving with full shopping bags, adding weight to complaints from a number of shop owners that their goods were looted.
But MPs investigating the attack last week accused some business owners of complaining in order to get compensation from their insurers.