Friday, September 27, 2013


A child runs towards Abdul Yusuf Haji amid a shooting spree at Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi
Abdul Yusuf Haji said the little girl who ran towards him in the Westgate shopping mall amid the shooting spree 'gave us all courage'. Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters 
The son of a former Kenyan security minister who helped rescue scores of people from a Nairobi shopping mall as it was being besieged by terrorists has said police deployed teargas to drive back attackers.

Speaking on Kenyan television, Abdul Yusuf Haji, told the remarkable story of how he came to form a group of armed civilians who tried to give cover to each other and Red Cross officials as they saved dozens of women and children from the Westgate mall on Saturday.

Haji revealed that two uniformed police used teargas as they approached the Nakumatt supermarket, the terror gang's main holdup inside the shopping mall. His account may explain statements from the al-Shabaab terror group, which said the Kenyan government used "chemical gasses" to end ithe attack that left at least 72 people dead.

 Haji's face and his black and white checked shirt became known around the world after a picture of him rescuing a young child running towards him, taken by Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic, became one of the defining images of the four-day siege.
He was identified on Twitter in the days following the attack but gave his first interview on Kenyan television on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the child's mother, Katherine Walton, said her family, including four-year-old Portia, had been pinned down by a hail of crossfire before Haji arrived. "We were just going to meet my two older boys in the supermarket when we heard an explosion," said the 38-year-old IT worker from North Carolina.

"I grabbed the girls and started running. A woman pulled us behind a promotional table opposite. I could see the bullets hitting above the shops and hear the screaming all around us."
Haji told NTV that as he went store to store looking for survivors with other armed men he said he noticed Walton hiding behind a table in the mall. "We asked her if she can come towards us. That's when she told us, I have three kids with me here … there's no way we can run with the kids … So we told them is one of the kids reasonably older? She nodded to us and we told her, can you please tell the kid to run towards us."

Portia then ran towards Haji, which he said gave everyone more courage. "This little girl is a very brave girl," he said. "Amid all this chaos around her, she remained calm, she wasn't crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were holding guns. … I was really touched by this and I thought if such a girl can be so brave … it gave us all courage."

Her husband, who was also caught up in the attack, said there was no question that they would leave Kenya on account of the horrific events at the mall. "There will always be bad people in the world but it's the comfort of knowing that there are good people that matters," he said.
"The way this community drew together and responded was just incredible. It's an honour and a privilege to be able to live among such good people.

Haji, a Muslim of ethnic Somali origin said friends and co-religionists encouraged him to speak out and reveal his story to counter al-Shabaab's message. "These people are not representing Muslims, they are not representing Islam," Haji said during the 30-minute interview.

Haji, whose father was the country's former security minister Mohamed Yusuf Haji, denied being a hero. "I don't think I'm a hero. I think I did what any Kenyan in my situation would have done to save lives, to save other humans regardless of the nationality, religion or creed … We're definitely not heroes," Haji told NTV.

He added that further bodies could be found in and around the Nakumatt supermarket following the end of the attack.

"We saw a lot of dead people. Very young people, children, old ladies, you cannot imagine."