Sunday, September 22, 2013

Attack on Westgate Mall

Yesterday armed gunmen took control of a local mall in Nairobi and began shooting indiscriminately. Saturday is a big day for family outings and shopping and many were trapped in the mall with hundreds injured, over fifty killed, and many taken hostage. A children's festival was going on at the time of the attack. The mall is popular with the expatriate community and has a major supermarket as well as over eighty retail shops. Our church is near Westgate Mall and a number of our members had harrowing experiences inside Westgate. Several friends managed to escape after hiding for hours in bathrooms or under cars amidst grenades and gunfire. Josh and Dave were nearby and initially heard reports to avoid the area because police had engaged robbers in a shootout. It was only much later in the day that we received news of the ongoing terrorist attack. We held a special service today and took time to pray for the nation of Kenya and those affected by the attacks. Helicopters and ambulances continue to pour into the area and there is a heavy police presence. Many other stores and shopping centres in the city have also closed down. In an unrelated incident, a fire broke out at the main national hospital, but now seems to be under control. We are told that 10-20 gunmen continue to hold hostages at Westgate as Kenyan and now Israeli special forces seek to free the hostages. Kenyans have been lining up to donate blood and are outraged at the senseless attack. There have been minor attacks by Al-Shabab in the recent past, mostly hand grenades tossed at bus stops or churches, but nothing like this since the 1998 embassy bombings. This brings back very painful memories for Nairobians who were present in 98. Kenya has long experienced a peaceful and harmonious existence between Muslims and Christians, but the extremist forms of jihad have led to increasing tensions. After numerous kidnappings and high rates of piracy along the Kenyan coast and Somali boarder, Kenyan defence forces invaded regions of Somalia to disarm Al-Shabab last year.  There also seems to be a growing sense of resentment among Kenyans against Somali immigrants, with over 1 million refugees in the country.. Please continue to pray for God's protection, peace, justice, and healing in both Kenya in Somalia.

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