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Survivor Of Kenya Mall Attack Describes Horrible Situation


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's follow up, now, on a weekend of spectacular acts of violence - from East Africa to the Middle East, to South Asia. In Iraq, an attack on a Shiite Muslim funeral killed more than 100 people. In a moment, we'll hear about a deadly bombing of a church in northwestern Pakistan.

GREENE: But first we turn to Kenya, where the Somali militant group Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack on a mall in Nairobi that's left over 60 people dead. Let's hear, now, from someone who was inside that mall when the bloody siege began over the weekend. She works for an aid agency in the Kenyan capital. Because of her work, she asked that we only use her first name, Lauren. We spoke to her a bit earlier.

So this all began at the mall on Saturday, and you were there - at the mall - I gather, doing some shopping? Tell me what you saw.

LAUREN: Well suddenly, in the store, all of the power went out. It was out for about two minutes and suddenly, gunfire broke out. We just heard automatic-weapon shooting. And your first instinct is to think oh, it's just a robbery so - kind of - take cover. So I ran into the back room with probably about 50 to 70 other people; and we kind of barricaded ourselves into this back storage room for several hours. And, you know, everyone had their phones, and there was a lot of - you know, everyone had access to other social media and were making updates. But it became pretty clear, after about an hour, that something else was going on. And, you know, there were a lot of automatic weapons. And we also started to hear bomb blasts, so - like grenades. We heard several grenade explosions while we were in there.

GREENE: What was the mood in there?

LAUREN: The mood was - I mean, there was a lot of different things. There was a couple people who, you know, started crying; a couple people were getting, you know, angry at other people for not being quiet enough. But mostly, it was calm people - talk to each other. At one point, one of the staff who was in there, you know, brought me water. He was able to find like, some packages of bottled water. He went and started handing it out to everybody.

GREENE: Were you on your phone - I mean, social media or otherwise?

LAUREN: I was using my phone to contact my friend - who was on the first floor of this department store - because she was hiding behind a bookcase the whole time...

GREENE: Oh, wow.

LAUREN: ...with about 10 other people. So I was trying to communicate with her to make sure that she was OK, and to try to calm her down. And eventually, she was able to escape. About two hours into the ordeal, she ran out a back door with some people and made it to safety. And about four hours into the ordeal, I was also able to leave. Some security forces - well, to be honest, I'm not sure who they were; they weren't in any kind of official clothing. But they came to the door and said get down, go single file, be very quiet; there's still people on the roof - like, just get down and go out; and run, run, run.

GREENE: Tell me exactly how you were rescued; how these people - you call them some sort of security forces - got you out of this room and to safety.

LAUREN: Well, there were several instances where we were trying to leave, and we weren't able to because there were gunshots; and people kind of stampede back into this room. But about four hours into the ordeal, we had been in contact with some people who - my guess was that it was some kind of security forces outside who said, just stay calm; we're coming to these places where we know that there are people held up. So just stay calm; we'll come to this certain door. So they came, and we went through a back entryway and were able to make it to safety.

GREENE: I wonder, Lauren, how close you were to some of the worst of this. I mean, did you see any of any of the militants that we now know are inside the mall, or any of their victims?

LAUREN: We didn't see - from where we were up in the mall, we didn't see anything although when we were leaving, there was a lot of blood and like, shoes and things like that, and they were in the hallway where people had tried to escape earlier.

GREENE: Lauren, tell me - I - you're describing being rescued and leaving and walking in these hallways, where you're seeing blood and clothing from, I suppose, some of the victims. What's going through your mind as you're walking past all of this?

LAUREN: For me, I was just thinking, I'm happy to be leaving; like, I'm happy to be getting out of here. Like, get me out; like, I want to keep my head low and just go. I mean, you know, the full situation really hit me about a day later. So right when I got back, we found out that it was a terrorist attack and that there were people still in there. And that's the worst part - is just knowing that there's people still in there.

GREENE: Well, Lauren, we're really glad that you are safe and through this. And thanks so much for talking to us.

LAUREN: Thank you, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.