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Covering dusitD2 complex terror attack, the tale of a journalist

Joseph Muraya reporting from Dusit Complex during the January 15, 2019 terror attack.

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 31- No one was willing to confirm whether it was a terror attack or not, but everything else depicted so.

The year 2019 was just 15 days old and this caught many off-guard, at least in the newsrooms.

January 15 went down as one Kenya’s darkest days.

“Muraya, rush to DusitD2 complex. I am not sure whether it is a bank robbery or a fire incident, rush and confirm it must be something serious,” that is the directive I received from my then News Editor Bernard Momanyi.

Armed with a notebook and a recorder, I boarded the company’s vehicle, not sure of what I was to expect.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, I noticed speeding private vehicles with sirens blazing…I knew all was not well.

Just at the junction of Waiyaki Way and Riverside Drive, we met armed police officers, some uniformed while others in civilian, and they were diverting traffic.

Not even my press card would allow me access to the scene of action- dusitD2 complex, which was about a kilometre away from where we were.

“Where do you want to go? Utafanywa kichungi,” a visibly irritated officer warned me after I tried explaining why it was important for me to be within the proximity of the facility.

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It was about 15 minutes after four terrorists had stormed the complex once thought to be the most secure addresses in the capital Nairobi, shooting indiscriminately, lobbing grenades while one of them, a suicide bomber, had already exploded outside a restaurant within the expansive complex.

I could hear prolonged gunfire, then silence, then more gunshots. It was a warzone.

Security forces who responded during the January 15, 2019 terror attack at Dusit. Photo/CFM-FILE.

A few minutes later, dozens of journalists-local and international- would join me and together we plotted how to outsmart the cops. We did it.

After a struggle, I miraculously found myself a block from where the terrorists were firing from.

On my way there, about 100 metres from the gate, I had stumbled on a blood-soaked body. That was a red alert.

I witnessed the rescue of hundreds of men and women, who appeared shaken.

I still recall the tens of calls from colleagues, relatives, and friends, some digging for more information while others were just concerned about my safety.

“Be safe Muraya,” that was a text message I received from the then Capital Limited Group Managing Director Somoina Kimojino.

I was willing to soldier on standing next to Kenya Red cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet until a hawk-eye officer realized I was neither a detective nor a Kenya Red Cross official.

I was whisked away the compound, and had to join my colleagues.

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All this time, I was briefing the office with real-time updates throughg our newsroom WhatsApp group.

I would also file scripts for the online edition, that would be promptly published.

As a journalist, I would interview, offer a shoulder to overwhelmed survivors and suppress the fears of “what if a stray bullet hits me.”

It never happened; I thank God.

But my highlight in covering this assignment was interviewing a wheelchair-bound mother, hours after the attack had started.

Her daughter was holed up inside the complex in one of the facilities, and despite her condition, she was daring to venture inside and confront the terrorists, saying her patient had run out after assurances from the police.

“I want to go inside and rescue my daughter,” she would tell the elite officers stopping her.

Then came a waiter in one of the eateries, who recalled serving the attackers coffee a few days to the attack.

“I knew one of them because he had a big scar on one of his hands,” he told me. “I saw them. They shot six of my friends, four didn’t die but two succumbed.”

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But somehow, they spared him.

Emotions would engulf me every time a body was moved out of the complex.

Of the dead was a police officer involved in the rescue operation.

Having covered the Westgate Mall terror attack in 2013, Kenya’s security officers with the help of their counterparts from across the world, heroically managed the situation.

While 21 innocent souls died, more than 700 others were rescued.

On Wednesday, the mall roars back to life having triumphed over terror.

dusitD2 flag that landed in Nairobi on July 31, 2019 to signify the hotel’s re-opening after the January 2019 attack. Photo/COURTESY.

“Six DusitD2 properties across the world including Thailand, Bhutan, China, Egypt and Dubai have hosted the Dusitd2 Nairobi flag to show support to the Hotel during its closure and in memory of the six colleagues lost during the January 15 terror attack,” read a statement from the Hotel.

The hotel, that lost six employee, was among establishments at the complex that suffered casualty in the attack that was claimed by Al Shabaab terrorists.

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