Nairobi (AFP) – Owners of Kenya’s Westgate mall, closed after Somali Islamists massacred 67 people almost two years ago, vowed Tuesday it would be safe as journalists toured the mall ahead of its reopening.
The mall was badly damaged in the four-day seige in September 2013, when four gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab walked into the upmarket mall, tossing grenades and killing shoppers and staff.
On Tuesday, painters were putting finishing touches to the inside of the mall, which is to set to reopen on Saturday.
In the mall’s main hall, where shoppers once played dead as gunmen stalked the corridors killing those they found, the stores appeared back to normal, missing only the shoppers that owners hope will return.
“Exactly 22 months ago we had one of the saddest days in Kenyan history,” Nairobi governor Evans Kidero told reporters outside the building, once one of the Kenyan capital’s most prestigious shopping locations.
“As a nation we cried, we mourned but… Westgate is back.”
The rear of the mall, once a multi-story carpark with a flat rooftop where gunmen shot shoppers at a children’s cooking competition, collapsed following a fierce blaze started by the fighting. That section was not open Tuesday.
Atul Shah, who heads the main regional supermarket chain Nakumatt — whose store in the mall was where many of the victims were hunted down in aisles and killed — said they were ready to reopen.
“Nakumatt is back, and so are the other tenants who were here previously — and a few new ones,” Shah told journalists who visited the mall Tuesday, promising the “majority” will open business on Saturday.
– US security warnings –
Mall shareholder Alex Trachtenberg promised security measures had been put in place.
“We have complied with the international anti-terrorism unit who have recommended what to do and what to enhance, so we are working together closely with them,” Trachtenberg said.
Since Westgate, the Shebab have continued to launch attacks in Kenya.
In April, the militants massacred 148 people in Kenya’s northeastern Garissa University.
This month, attacks includes a roadside bomb on Monday in the eastern coastal Lamu region, which killed five civilians on a police truck, as well as a night raid on quarry workers, killing at least 14.
The threat remains. The United States warned its citizens in Kenya on Monday of the risk of terrorist attacks ahead of visit by President Barack Obama, singling out a conference that Obama is due to address.
The US president is scheduled to give a speech to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, which opens on July 24.
“As with all large public events, there is the opportunity for criminal elements to target participants and other visitors,” the US State Department said.
“Large-scale public events such as this summit can also be a target for terrorists. US citizens should maintain a high level of security awareness.”