Kenya’s Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi has reopened to the public, nearly two years since al Shabaab gunmen went on the rampage in the aisles, in a siege and massacre that left at least 67 people dead.
Thousands of people turned up when the doors opened on Saturday morning, and stores and restaurants across the complex were crowded with patrons.
But, in a reminder of the security threat, armed police guarded the entrance to the complex. Inside private security guards in plain clothes patrolled the building, wearing earpieces for communication.
And although traders are back in business, memories of the massacre remain.
“That day was really tragic,” said the owner of one outlet, Olga Ercolano.
“My staff, Caroline, who is a sales girl, she was there that day and she was lucky to escape alive. But she also doesn’t want to go back to those memories, you know. We just want to be positive and move forward.”
Israeli firm I.R.G. has been put in charge of running security in the reopened mall. New features include explosive detectors, luggage X-rays, scanners to check underneath cars, bollards to prevent car bombs, and bullet-proof guard towers.
Since the four-day Westgate siege in September 2013, the Islamist militants from neighbouring Somalia have continued to target Kenya and damage its tourist industry.
The deadliest attack killed 148 people at a university in eastern Kenya’s Garissa County in April.
The group says the attacks are in response to Kenya’s involvement with an African Union-led force in Somalia.
The reopening of the Westgate mall comes a week ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Nairobi.
Nairobi governor Evans Kidero said the reopening showed the resilience of the Kenyan people.
“I know there will be apprehensions but as a country we are safer than ever and we will continue to work to ensure that our country is safe,” he said.
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