In Summary
  • He grew up shooting at the Athi River range and describes himself as “very good with pistols”.
  • He teamed up with a vigilante group of about 10 people from Parklands neighbourhood who had pistols, two-way radios and bulletproof vests.
  • Mr Haji caught a glimpse of two attackers. One of them taunted them in Kiswahili to come closer if they dared.

Abdul Haji, 38, was in a meeting at Yaya Centre when he received an SMS from his elder brother.

“Stuck in Westgate. I think it’s a terrorist attack. Pray for me,” it read.

It was a moment he had been dreading for two weeks after a local television station exposed his brother, an undercover counter-terrorism officer, in an investigative programme.

Since then, the family of Senator Yusuf Haji has been receiving threats and warnings from people believed to represent the Somali-based Al-Shabaab Islamist group.

Mr Haji quickly excused himself from the meeting and dashed to Westgate. It was almost 1pm on Saturday, September 21.

Al-Shabaab gunmen had stormed the mall a few minutes earlier and started shooting indiscriminately.

Mr Haji, a businessman and a father of four daughters, believed the feared attack had come.

“My instinct was that they had come for my brother and that they would later come for the whole family,” he told Daily Nation Wednesday. “I was motivated to go in and fight to save my brother and my family.”

LICENSED GUN HOLDER

A licensed gun holder and gun enthusiast, Mr Haji was introduced to guns by his father, the Garissa senator who is also a former defence minister and long-serving provincial administrator.

He grew up shooting at the Athi River range and describes himself as “very good with pistols”.

He had packed an SSK heavy blaster pistol with 14 rounds of ammunition. When he arrived at Westgate, sounds of gunfire and screams could be heard.

He teamed up with a vigilante group of about 10 people from Parklands neighbourhood who had pistols, two-way radios and bulletproof vests.

They then saw movements in the mall basement parking. Many people had been shot inside or outside their cars. Some were still alive.

“We must go in there and see if we can rescue some people,” Abbas Gullet of the Kenyan Red Cross said.

With some of the vigilantes offering cover, they crept into the basement and pulled out bodies and some injured people.

Then, together with two plainclothes policemen, they headed to the rooftop via the ramp using the wall for cover.

They ran into a scene straight from hell.

“I have seen bodies but I have never seen so many bodies of children and helpless women,” Mr Haji said. “It was a massacre.”

The people at the rooftop had been attending a children’s cooking competition. The floor was covered in blood, cooking oil and food. There was no gunman in sight.

Page 1 of 2