Kenya is marking 10 years since a group of Somali al-Shabab militants attacked a major shopping mall in Nairobi, killing more than 60 people.
While terror threats in the capital have since decreased, the group continues to perpetrate attacks along Kenya's coast and in the country’s northeastern region. One Saturday in 2013, four armed men from the al-Shabab terror group stormed Westgate Mall, attacking shoppers and killing anyone on sight.
The attack was followed by a siege, wherein the attackers engaged security forces in a gun battle for days. In the end, 67 people were killed and more than 150 were injured. Thirty-six-year-old John Wangombe worked as an IT expert and was among the hundreds trapped in the mall that day. The father of three said he is happy to be alive.
"Now things have changed. At that time, I was single and now I am married. I would say thank God he gave me another chance to live. I would say the country is a bit secure. We don't have an al-Shabab attack at the moment in our city. The security is now better compared to that time," he said.
Kenyan security forces were criticized for how they handled the attack and for lack of coordination in dealing with the militants. Richard Tuta, a Nairobi-based security analyst, said the mall attack has changed how Kenyan security forces deal with terror threats and attacks.
"It has even shaped how our security agencies are structured currently. If you look at how our security agencies were structured before and after, a lot has changed. Secondly, now we have a well-trained, well-equipped, well-structured anti-terror police unit that is fused with the intelligence component within it, unlike before," he said.
In October 2020, a Kenyan court found two men guilty for their roles in the deadly 2013 mall attack. Convicted of conspiring with and aiding the attackers, the men were sentenced to prison. But the security improvements and some courtroom convictions have yet to heal the hundreds who survived and lost family and friends.
In 2015, the mall reopened for shopping. Wangombe has since visited the mall, but bad memories prevent him from returning.
"I would say the security was a bit better. You could see the security guys looked experienced. But even with that security, there is that fear that you have: It can happen again. I remember where we were hiding. I remember that building where I used to work. If I go there, it will bring bad memories," he said.
A heightened security presence in the capital has reduced the number of attacks, but al-Shabab continues to carry out frequent attacks in northeastern and coastal regions.
Tuta said eradicating terrorism is no easy task.
"Terrorism is something that is there to stay. It's there to stay. It's not something that one country can boast of that it has done away with it. Actually, what it can do is to transform itself in terms of operations and in terms of selections of targets and in terms of how they undertake it. But it will be there for a while — because, remember, this is an ideology," he said.
Al-Shabab has vowed to wage war against Kenya until Kenyan troops are withdrawn from the country, where they were deployed in 2011.