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.
“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.
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.
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.