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Terror of Kenya Westgate siege haunts one year on

For Kenyan security guard Maurice Adembesa Ombisa the horror of Nairobi`s Westgate mall massacre lasted just minutes: he was one of the first of the 67 people killed in the attack.

AFP| Updated: Sep 17, 2014, 09:42 AM IST

Nairobi: For Kenyan security guard Maurice Adembesa Ombisa the horror of Nairobi`s Westgate mall massacre lasted just minutes: he was one of the first of the 67 people killed in the attack.

But for his widow and two young children, who on Sunday mark the one year anniversary of the bloodbath four-day siege, the trauma of the killings is as bitter as ever.

"Our lives have changed forever," said Ombisa`s widow Eunice Khavetsa, who now cares for her nine-year old son and seven-year old daughter alone.

On a busy Saturday afternoon, the highrise shopping centre was crowded with hundreds of shoppers or friends meeting for a meal.

Then four gunmen from Somalia`s Al-Qaeda linked Shebab stormed the upmarket mall, hurling grenades and shooting scores in cold blood with AK-47 rifles.

Women and children were hunted down in supermarket aisles and executed, in what the Shebab said was revenge for Kenya`s sending of troops to fight the extremists in Somalia as part of an African Union force.

Ombisa, who carried out security checks on cars entering the building, was earning a wage to support his family.

He was shot soon after the men burst from the car, spraying bullets at anyone they could see.

"Life since has been extremely difficult," his 27-year old widow Khavetsa said, who lives in a simple tin hut home in one of Nairobi`s crowded slum districts.

She said that as her husband had been a new employee of the security firm. The family received no compensation -- although a small amount of money was received from the Kenyan Red Cross which organised a public support fund.

"The children are now looking up to me for everything -- from school fees, food to clothing -- and I can barely afford house rent."Since losing her husband of eight years, she has struggled to cope.

"It`s been a tough year," she said. "My in-laws have deserted us, they don`t even come to see the children."

Miriam Okola, 29, said it`s painful to recall the death of her husband, a driver who had been shopping in the large mall for his employer.

Photographs of him bring back painful memories.

"My children have been bothering me, asking about their dad -- to a point where I have been forced to put his photos away," Okola said, barely holding back her tears.

Leah Njuki, who was working as a sales attendant, escaped unharmed from the attack, but with the mall closed since the attack -- a large section collapsed during the four days of fighting and a fierce fire -- she struggles to get by.

"I lost my job, and I haven`t been lucky to get another one," the mother of one said. 

On Sunday, prayers will be held in places of worship, and a candle lit memorial and concert will take place, with video testimonies from survivors.

"It looked like a war zone, a massacre had taken place," said Abdul Haji, who ran into the mall to rescue people during the attack.

"What these people were doing in Westgate was the complete opposite of what Islam teaches us. I saw children who had been shot at, I saw young girls who had been killed, I saw elderly who had been killed."Some people have tried to bring the smallest good out of the most horrific of events.

Ranju Shah, who had been at Westgate for a coffee, recounted how she and others hid in a storage area for two hours as the fighting raged, with Kenyans from all ethnicities comforting each other. 

"The whole incident has brought the people of Kenya together," Shah says in the memorial film.

"Everybody tried to help everybody, they didn`t care about what caste, creed or religion they were following, they were all helping each other."

Others are defiant, despite being wounded in the attack.

"It was a miracle how I survived," Ben Mulwa, 32, who was shot in the leg, told AFP.

"That attack alone changed my life. To date, every time I hear the sound of a gunshot, it messes me up," said the father-of-two, who is involved in micro-finance projects supporting poor women and youth.

The Shebab remain a major threat, and continue to launch attacks despite advances in by African Union troops inside Somalia, and US air strikes killing its chief earlier this month.

But Mulwa still goes to malls, refusing to let the attack change his life any more than it has.

"I don`t feel intimidated by that cowardly act," he said, standing outside the boarded up Westgate building, where bullet scars still pockmark its walls.