Kenya marks anniversary of Westgate mall attack
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Kenya marks anniversary of Westgate mall attack

Vigils planned one year after Somali Islamists laid siege to upscale shopping center and killed at least 67 people

Dawn breaks over the still-smoldering Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Ben Curtis)
Dawn breaks over the still-smoldering Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Ben Curtis)

NAIROBI, Kenya (AFP) — Kenya on Sunday marks a year since Somali Islamist gunmen attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, with anniversary commemorations including the unveiling of a memorial stone and candlelight vigil.

At least 67 people were killed and scores more wounded when a small group of Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters from the al-Shabab terror group walked into the upmarket mall, tossing grenades and executing shoppers and staff.

Kenya has been on high alert ahead of the anniversary, especially amid fears of retaliatory Shabab attacks after their reclusive leader and the alleged mastermind of the Westgate attack, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed at the start of this month in a US air strike.

Police chief David Kimaiyo announced Saturday they are on high alert following fears of a terror attack during the Westgate anniversary.

“We are prepared in case of anything. Specialized units are on the ground and we have intensified patrols during this period of the anniversary,” Kimaiyo told reporters.

Kenyan officials, community leaders, attack survivors and relatives of the victims are due to assemble early Sunday in Nairobi’s Karura forest for a memorial procession and inter-faith prayers.

Kenyan newspapers with headlines related to the Westgate mall terror attack are pictured on September 19, 2014 as Kenya commemorates the first anniversary since the terror attack that happened in the Nairobi's shopping mall. (photo credit: AFP Photo/Simon Maina)
Kenyan newspapers with headlines related to the Westgate mall terror attack are pictured on September 19, 2014 as Kenya commemorates the first anniversary since the terror attack that happened in the Nairobi’s shopping mall. (photo credit: AFP Photo/Simon Maina)

“We will be unveiling a plaque in honor of those who lost their lives,” said Rajesh Shah, chairman of Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust, one of the event organizers.

The plaque, on a black granite stone, bears the names of the 67 people who were confirmed to have been killed in the attack, which began on a Saturday midday and was declared over four days later.

‘Healing process’

Relatives of the victims will also lay wreaths of flowers at a garden in the forest where 67 tree seedlings were planted last year.

“We expect the victims’ families and friends to come out and be part of the healing process,” Shah said.

The commemorations will end later in the day with a candlelight concert at the National Museum, the venue of a memorial exhibition that opened this week.

Soldiers from the Kenyan Defense Forces gather at the entrance to the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, September 26, 2013. Working near bodies crushed by rubble in a bullet-scarred, scorched mall, FBI agents began fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis Wednesday to help determine the identities and nationalities of victims and al-Shabab gunmen who attacked the shopping center, killing more than 60 people. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Soldiers from the Kenyan Defense Forces gather at the entrance to the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Thursday, September 26, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

All four gunmen are believed to have died in the mall, their bodies burned and crushed by tonnes of rubble after a section of the complex collapsed following a fierce blaze started by the fighting.

The mall was crowded with hundreds of shoppers and friends meeting for a meal, as well as a children’s cooking competition.

Shoppers were hunted down in supermarket aisles and killed, in what the Shabab said was revenge for Kenya’s sending of troops to fight the extremists in Somalia as part of an African Union force.

The extremists have launched a string of subsequent attacks in Kenya, including a wave of massacres in the coastal region, which has badly affected the country’s key tourist industry.

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