Scarred by Terrorist Attacks, Kenya Set to Re-Open Westgate Mall

NAIROBI (Reuters) -

Kenya’s trendy Westgate shopping mall is scheduled to reopen this weekend, nearly two years after gunmen from the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab massacred at least 67 people inside and held out for four days as security forces laid siege to the complex.

Once a totem of Kenya’s growing prosperity, the Westgate building has since become symbolic of growing insecurity in the east African nation and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inability to prevent frequent Islamist attacks on Kenyan soil.

Images beamed across the world during the raid dented Kenya’s image abroad and scared off tourists, hurting a vital sector of the economy. Kenya’s embarrassment was compounded by Westgate security footage which showed soldiers looting the mall after the Somali terrorists were killed.

Evans Kidero, the Nairobi governor, said the September 2013 attack was “one of the saddest days in Kenyan history” but touted the re-opening of the mall as a triumph of national resilience in the face of militant attacks.

Major Western brands plan to open stores in the new mall along with Kenyan companies such as Nakumatt, a high-end supermarket chain popular with well-heeled locals and expatriate workers.

Al Shabaab has killed more than 400 people on Kenyan soil over the last two years, including 148 in a rampage by masked gunmen at a university in April. Britain and other Western powers have issued several travel advisories warning of more attacks.

But Kidero, like many other Kenyan officials, said security has been stepped up and urged Kenyans to continue shopping in malls as the east African nation was open for business.

“Kenya is safer than ever. If it wasn’t, Obama wouldn’t be coming,” Kidero added, in reference to President Barack Obama’s visit to his father’s homeland later this month.

I.R.G., a private Israeli company, has been put in charge of running security in the re-opened mall. It has about 25 specialist staff and will use about 55 guards from security firm G4S, one I.R.G employee told Reuters inside Westgate.