For Yariv Kedar, choosing to lunch on a café terrace rather than inside the
restaurant’s walls ended up a matter of life and death on Saturday
“I was having a business meeting lunch with a colleague,” he
told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday morning, on a Skype call from Nairobi. “We
were just sitting there quietly. Then we heard a bomb and another
Kedar, 53, and his colleague were sitting on the café’s balcony,
which projects from the capital city’s Westgate mall over the street below. As
they sat at their table, the colleagues soon heard a series of grenades,
followed by rounds of automatic weaponry, he explained.
“They shot and
shot and shot,” he said.
At least 68 people were killed in an attack that
began Saturday noontime in the luxury shopping mall, allegedly launched by the
Somali Islamist group al- Shabaab.
Among those trapped in the mall were
several Israelis, including business owners of shops in the mall as well as
weekend visitors like Kedar.
All of the Israelis trapped in the mall at
the time of the attack left safely, and one was slightly injured, according to
Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson.
Yaki Opez, Israel’s deputy
ambassador in Kenya, said that initially there were likely more than 10 Israelis
in the mall, but that some managed to escape early on in the
Ultimately, he explained, three were left stuck as hostages in
the building until their rescue.
“At any given time on a Saturday
lunchtime there would be at least that number,” he said.
In response to
media reports that Israeli security officials were advising Kenyans about the
situation, Opez stressed that “we cannot comment on any security related
From their spot on the Israeli owned ArtCaffe terrace, Kedar
said that he and his colleague could see the onslaught of shooters entering the
mall and slaughtering a security guard on the street below. As the attackers
began shooting upward and into the balcony, a man just next to him was struck,
“When we saw them shooting toward us, I dived on the floor
with my colleague,” Kedar said. “While we were on the floor, the shooting kept
on going and going.”
“People said it was a robbery that went wrong,” he
“I said, no way.”
At this point, a number of people who
had been lunching on the terrace rushed into the café proper for cover. The
attackers later entered the café, firing at the customers with automatic
weapons, Kedar described.
Lying on the floor with his colleague for 10
minutes while hearing the shots banging inside, Kedar said he sent an SMS to a
friend working in security, who was able to contact the Kenyan Security Ministry
as well as the Israeli Embassy in Nairobi.
“I was worried they would come
to the balcony and shoot us,” he said.
At that point, Kedar said he
abandoned all of his Israeli identification documents because “the worst
citizenship to have in that case was Israeli citizenship.”
Then, he and
his colleague eyed their escape route options, and rather than jumping into the
street – which they briefly considered – the two identified a small gate on the
balcony. Running down the street, the colleagues managed to escape from the mall
about 35 to 40 minutes from the first explosion, Kedar said.
Kedar was able to get in touch with some of the other Israelis as well as a UN
official trapped in the building via SMS, and said he directed rescue forces
toward their whereabouts.
Kedar spoke of the sheer brutality of the
attackers, describing incidents he heard about in which a storeowner was shot in
the head while a woman next to the retailer was simultaneously
While this is the first brush with terror Kedar has experienced
firsthand during his seven years in Kenya, an employee of his workplace was
recently killed in another attack, he said.
Kedar – who serves as head of
the agriculture division of the horticulture development firm Amiran Kenya –
said that two months ago he had sent a 24- year-old student employee to provide
agricultural guidance to a community near the Somali border, in conjunction with
the Red Cross. Al-Shabaab rampaged that site as well, and despite a successful
run to the police station, the student and police officers were shot dead, Kedar
Despite the dangers, Kedar said that he plans to stay in
Kenya, as the work in food security and agricultural training that he and his
colleagues are doing is a source of pride for Israel.
“I am very proud to
be an Israeli,” Kedar added. “Kenyans love Israelis. Kenyans are very good
friends to Israelis and they respect Israelis a lot.”
unequivocally that Kenyans in general are friendly to and “highly supportive” of
the Jewish state, another Israeli Nairobi resident was not as certain that he
and his family would remain in the African nation.
“Events like these put
everything in doubts and uncertainties.
We live in a small community in a
vulnerable area,” said Albert Attias, 61, who is the president of Nairobi’s
Attias’s wife, Rina, 57, was the last Israeli to emerge
from the Westgate mall on Saturday, and he said that they are deliberating about
their future. The Attiases own several businesses in Kenya and have been living
there since 1981.
While his wife was trapped in the mall for six hours,
Attias said he was able to keep constantly in touch with her through SMS.
Through his wife’s point of view, Attias described attackers scattering all over
the mall where at least 1,000 people were hiding.
“They were moving from
place to place picking people, demanding that they would say an Islamic prayer,”
Attias told the Post
on Sunday through Skype. “Whoever could not say the prayer
was shot dead.”
Stressing that it took a long time before rescue forces
entered the mall, Attias described how “slowly, slowly people were rescued from
the different areas and removed from the mall.”
It was crucial for him to
communicate with his wife by SMS only, as the attackers were shooting people
whose phones rang, according to Attias.
“Luckily she was rescued and was
not injured and unharmed,” he said of his wife.
“Now she’s undergoing a
Although several of the stores in the mall are owned by
Israelis, Attias said he did not have an opinion as to whether the attackers
targeted the facility for that reason.
Like Kedar, who has daughters in
Israel, Attias and his wife have two sons in Tel Aviv, and their daughter just
moved back to Kenya. The Nairobi Jewish community comprises about 500 people,
most of whom are Israelis, he said.
“We are trying to survive and live
here, but I really do not know what people will think to do in the future,”
“Now unfortunately Kenya has started to feel the threat that
Israel has been suffering.”
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.