DPP Noordin Haji recently narrated how he was held under siege at West Gate mall after terrorists raided the premise on September 21, 2013 leaving many dead.
The attack was the second most deadly after its bombings in East Africa in 1998. At Westgate, sixty-seven people died, 150 were wounded over four days..
For seven hours Haji and others sheltered in a toilet. He constantly fed information to security sources about the siege and tried to calm the panicked people with him. He’s sorry didn’t have his gun.
For the first time, Haji has spoken about the Westgate ordeal in an exclusive interview with the Star, one that sheds light on the man, his resourcefulness and determination. He called it the lowest moment in his life.
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This is his story:
Haji, then a director at the National Intelligence Service responsible for counter-terrorism, had gone to Westgate to buy gifts for his counterparts in Sudan. He was headed there for a series of meetings.
“After shopping at Nakumatt on ground floor, I went to the washroom when I heard gunshots rending the air. Having been on the front line in Somalia for years, I immediately knew this was a terror attack.
A few of us ran to the nearby toilet where I then informed my father, my brother Abdul Haji and my colleagues in the security sector that a terror attack was unfolding.”
“I’m stuck at the Westgate. Seems like a terrorist attack. Pray for me,” was the message Haji sent to his father, Garissa senator Yusuf Haji, and his younger brother Abdul.
Abdul Haji was in Yaya Centre when he got the message and immediately ran down to the basement parking, driving at breakneck speed to Westgate.
“I broke all the traffic rules getting there but I made it. All I wanted was to save those trapped inside, including my brother Noordin,” Abdul recalled. He himself rescued two women and three children amidst the gunfire — those photos went viral.
The gifted spy chief Haji — an ethnic Somali and observant Muslim — risked his own life to save others as security chiefs leading the operations relied on him to communicate what was going on inside the mall.
“We were quite a number who ended up in the washroom and tried to find a place where we could shelter. I got rid of my wallet, I put it in the ceiling, hoping that if they came in they would not recognise me.”
He and the others planned how they could help other people if the terrorists stormed in. Haji recounts this in his characteristically modest manner.
For seven hours Haji kept communicating with various security agencies who were battling the attackers, some who were stationed outside Nakumatt.
“At some point I thought they were coming for me because a few weeks before the attack KTN’s Jipo Pevu had splashed my pictures all over, describing me as an an undercover intelligence officer. It said I had been receiving death threats, presumably from al Shabaab,” Haji told the Star.
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“The saddest thing is that I didn’t have a gun. I felt a bit helpless but then I was used to gunfire and carrying a gun in my line of duty.
When we went to Kismayo as we were negotiating a peace deal with different Somali factions there, we always under attack. We were always within firing range and because of that when I was caught at Westgate I was a bit calmer. I tried to calm down the others sheltering in the toilet,” the DPP said.