Nairobi attack survivor's escape from Al Shabab militants: We were focused on getting out alive

Witnesses recount their terror as attackers stormed the DusitD2 hotel in Westlands

People take cover after an attack on a hotel, in Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.  Extremists launched a deadly attack on a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex. A police officer said he saw bodies, "but there was no time to count the dead." (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

As an explosion and gunfire rang out in Nairobi’s leafy suburb of Westlands on Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of terrified office workers barricaded themselves inside or fled for their lives on foot.

"We have no idea what is happening. Gunshots are coming from multiple directions," said Simon Crump, an employee at a public relations company who was hiding with two of his colleagues.

The Australian was among a first wave of people evacuated from the office buildings surrounding the DusitD2 hotel, after sustained gunfire. When the attack began, he and his colleagues barricaded themselves inside a spare room.

They waited for about two and a half hours for help to arrive.

"We were focused on getting out of there alive, being acutely aware that there were active shooters throughout the compound that we could potentially come under fire from," he told the ABC’s The World Today programme.

Mr Crump said he thought the Australian High Commission had come under attack.

"I've got a good view of the high commission from my window, and once I realised it wasn't an attack on the embassy, I realised it potentially was a more serious incident than I was anticipating," he said.

When soldiers finally reached the group, they instructed them to put their phones away and put their hands in the air.

"When the security personnel arrived there was a lot of commotion," Mr Crump said. "One of the biggest fears you have in such a situation is whether the people who are banging at the door are the people who are going to get you out of such a situation, or whether they are the people who are going to hurt you."

The group was eventually led to safety.

"It's a traumatic time, it's a very stressful time … you are wondering whether you should be messaging your loved ones to say, 'Thank you, it's been swell, please forgive me and I love you', or, 'Please be calm and we will be out shortly'."

Security forces worked throughout the night to get people to safety and secure the compound, which includes a 101-room hotel, spa, restaurant and office buildings, after the attack claimed by Al Shabab militants on Tuesday afternoon.

Attackers were ‘very confident’

One survivor rescued from the building told a local television station the attackers were "very confident; they were people who knew what they were doing".

At least one suicide bomber blew himself up at the hotel while gunmen sprayed fire before engaging security forces and holing themselves up at the premises.

Surveillance video showed three attackers dressed in black running across the car park at 3.30pm local time (4.30pm UAE), shortly followed by a fourth.

In this grab taken from security camera footage released to the local media, an armed attacker walks in the compound of a hotel, in Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Extremists launched an attack on a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberate through the neighborhood. A police officer says he saw bodies, "but there was no time to count the dead." Al-Shabab _ the Somalia-based extremist group _ is claiming responsibility. (Security Camera Footage via AP)

At least two of the men were wearing green scarves in the close-up footage. One appeared to be wearing a green belt with grenades on it.

'A flash of lights and a loud bang'

Kenya is a base for hundreds of diplomats, aid workers, businessmen and others operating around East Africa.

"I just started hearing gunshots, and then started seeing people running away raising their hands up and some were entering the bank to hide for their lives," a woman working in a bank in the complex said, adding she heard two explosions.

John Maingi said there had been "a flash of lights and a loud bang" at the Secret Garden restaurant where he works.

"When I peeped outside I saw a human leg which has been cut off. We hid in the room and then some police officers rescued us," he said.

Civilians who had been hiding in buildings flee under the direction of a member of security forces at a hotel complex in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Terrorists attacked an upscale hotel complex in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the neighborhood. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Reuben Kimani, a barista who was rescued after several hours trapped inside the hotel, said he recognised one of the attackers as a client.

"I knew one of them because he had a big scar on one of his hands," he said. "I saw them. They shot six of my friends, four didn't die but two succumbed."

Geoffrey Otieno, who works at a beauty salon in the complex, said he heard a loud bang from something thrown inside the building, then saw shattered glass.

"We hid until we were rescued," he said.

‘Men with scarves on their head and bandoliers of bullets’

The compound targeted contained offices of various international companies, in an echo of a deadly 2013 assault on a Nairobi shopping centre in the same neighbourhood.

"The main door of the hotel was blown open and there was a human arm in the street," said Serge Medic, the Swiss owner of a security company who ran to the scene to help when he heard of the attack from his taxi driver.

Mr Medic, who was armed, entered the building with a policeman and two soldiers, he said, but they came under fire and retreated. An unexploded grenade lay in the lobby, he said.

"One man said he saw two armed men with scarves on their head and bandoliers of bullets," Mr Medic told Reuters, as gunfire echoed in the background.

As the siege stretched into its second day on Wednesday, it was revealed that 14 people did not make it out of the hotel complex alive, with 11 Kenyans, a Briton and an American reported among the dead.

By mid-morning Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta said that security forces had killed all four militants who stormed the complex. More than 700 people had been taken to safety, he said.

"I can confirm that... the security operation at Dusit complex is over and all the terrorists eliminated," Mr Kenyatta said in a televised address to the nation.


Read more:

Kenya will remain target as long as troops in Somalia

Nairobi attack shows Al Shabab still powerful despite US efforts