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Kenyans live in fear a year after Westgate attack

22 September 2014, 09:19

Nairobi - There was jubilation and triumph when Sergeant Godfrey Emojong, a policeman who took 14 bullets, three of them to the chest, returned to his village in Busia, days after doctors extracted the last bullet from his body.

"I am determined and ready to serve," said Emojong, 37, who led an elite team of Administration Police (AP), an armed unit of the Kenya Police dedicated to the protection of state installations to the upscale Westgate Mall, after armed attackers raided it on 21 September 2013.

At first, security forces read the motive of the attackers as a robbery. The intensity of the shootings and use of grenades at the Mall shortly after midday on a busy Saturday convinced them otherwise.

Emojong's team of 10 was amongst the armed units of the Kenyan forces which helped to rescue hundreds of shoppers at the busy mall. At least 800 people were safely rescued from the mall.

The attackers killed 67 people and wounded some 200 others, among them is Emojong, who left hospital early this month, accumulating a medical bill of 170,000 U.S. dollars.

"I have seen this world again after coming face to face with death. I am determined to serve and meet the Al-Shabaab or any terrorist groups," said Emojong who vowed to return to active service in pursuit of the militant group which claimed responsibility for one of the worst terror attacks on the Kenyan soil.

"I came under a hail of bullets. I exhausted my ammunition while returning fire," the private daily, the Star, quoted Emojong saying during a triumphant celebration for his return to the village this month.

On 19 June, doctors extracted the last of the 14 bullets lodged into his body during the ordeal. Three of the bullets were lodged on his chest. One bullet went through the abdomen and stopped short of the spinal column. It was a miraculous survival.

Denise Kodhe, the Director-General of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Africa (IDEA), said since the Westgate attack, millions of Kenyans have been living in fear. Hundreds more have lost lives.

"The victims of the Westgate attack have been forgotten by the government and there has been no compensation," Kodhe told Xinhua. "The government has failed to put in place disaster preparedness mechanism to manage incidences such as Westgate when they happen."

All Emojong remembers of the incident was being in a pool of blood with a shattered leg and arm before his own rescue. All around, he could see some of his squadron members on the floor, dead.

"It is a pity the government has not done much to build capacity among the people to educate and create awareness and improve the attitudes about terrorism," Kodhe said, adding the incident appears not to have alarmed the local citizens about the need to take precautions.

"Most people still flock the scenes of incidences without taking precautionary measures to avoid dangers on themselves," Kodhe said.

Security analysts say the Al-Shabaab still poses a major security threat across the East African region.

Mbijiwe Mwenda, a counter-terrorism expert and CEO of the Eye on Security, a private security consultancy, said the threat of the Al-Shabaab is proving more complex and there is need for Kenya and the rest of East Africa to prepare for more complex security threats.

"Kenya and the region needs to brace themselves for more serious attacks such as flying of hijacked aircrafts onto buildings such as what happened on Sept. 11," Mbijiwe told Xinhua. "The country and the region need to imagine serious attacks involving chemical and biological weapons and prepare to react to such attacks."

The Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane was killed early this month in a U.S. strike by unmanned aerial vehicles in Southern Somalia.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who lost a nephew during the Westgate attack, said Godane's killing provided some measure of closure to the 67 victims of the Westgate terror attack.

Kodhe said the Al-Shabaab remains a big threat despite the ongoing military operation against it inside Somalia.

The group is spreading in small units and establishing bases in neighboring countries while building alliances with other international terrorist groups. "The government should seriously put in place a mechanism to deal with Al-Shabaab internally and to ensure that their movements and connections are checked everywhere without compromising security," Kodhe stated.

Also read: Kenya marks 1 year since Westgate Mall attack

Authorities are pursuing a security strategy worth 2 billion U. S. dollars this year known as Nyumba Kumi initiative, which urges civilians to take exceptional attention to the security within their neighborhood.

Mbijiwe said the initiative has proved to be "an amazing public engagement vehicle to the national security" machinery. However, "fear and a sense of despondency and frustration has characterized most Kenyans reaction to these attacks," Mbijiwe said.

 - Xinhua

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