At least three Israelis were rescued from Nairobi's Westgate Mall, which came under a deadly terror attack on Saturday. Among them was Yariv Keidar, an employee of the Amiran company who has been operating in Kenya for the past seven years.
The attack caught him eating lunch at a café inside the mall. "At 12:25 pm I heard massive blasts outside the shopping center," he related. "After three loud blasts we heard gunfire over our heads."
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One of the café goers sustained a bullet to the leg, signaling to all those present that the mall had come under attack. "People in panic started screaming," Keidar recounts.
"The terrorists fired round at all directions. At that second I hid all my papers that could identify me as an Israeli – my passport and work papers – so that I won't get kidnapped or be hurt because I'm Israeli. My co-worker did the same. We stayed under the table until local security forces came."
Keidar believes that while the attack was carried out near Israeli-owned stores, it was not an attempt to target Israelis. "They could have fired only at the stores or God forbid hit the synagogue. I think the terrorists tried to hit Western symbols. They are at war with the Kenyan government."
Israel's Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, Jacob Lopez, described the shootout inside the mall as "heavy bombardment." Lopez, who had worked together with embassy staff to rescue three Israelis trapped inside the mall, said that after they were removed the embassy began to assist the Kenyan forces.
Lopez revealed that one of the Israelis had hid inside a store for about three to four hours until she was rescued. Embassy staff were in contact with her during that time. Another Israeli had hid in a restaurant storeroom
Lopez too estimated the attack did not target Israelis. "At this stage I don’t think the target was Israeli," he said. He further added that members of the Israeli community in Kenya frequent the mall regularly and have nevertheless remained calm in the wake of the terror attack. "The Israelis are all calm as far as I know. I don't detect any measure of panic. There is an atmosphere of mutual support."
Following threats by the al-Shabab group, the Kenyan government recently asked Israel for anti-terror aid. "Israel's security forces are among the world's best in dealing with terror threats," the Kenyan request noted.
Nairobi's Westgate Mall attracts businessmen from around the world including from Arab states. A group of Israelis operate four restaurants at the upscale shopping center: a café, a tapas bar, a hamburger place and a sushi parlor.
"At first I heard that an Israeli was taken hostage but I heard she was released. One of the sushi parlor's managers hid in the bathroom for an hour and a half until he managed to escape," Keidar said.
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