Voices from the mall

The first terrifying hours of the Westgate siege

The morning of Saturday 21 September 2013 had been sunny in Nairobi, and as lunchtime approached, the Westgate Mall was getting busy.

The complex - just to the north-west of the city centre - was filling with hundreds of people.

Families had popped in to run errands and shop. Some had gone in for lunch, others to see a film.

From the top of the building, excited shrieks from youngsters could be heard. Up there, in a section of the rooftop parking area, a Masterchef-style cooking competition for children was under way.

Then suddenly - close to noon - everything changed.

There were sounds of explosions. Gunshots cracked around the mall.

Many people thought it was just a robbery at one of the banks inside the building. But it soon became clear that it was something far more deadly.

On the ground floor, at Urban Gourmet Burgers, Arnold Nicholas had arrived for his shift as a waiter.

Among his customers were Australian-born architect, Ross Langdon, and his partner, Elif Yavuz, a researcher who was working to find a vaccine for malaria.

They had been shopping for their baby - due in the coming weeks - and had come to Nairobi specially to have the child. The facilities were better than in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where they were living.

Seconds after the first gunshots, a grenade exploded, shattering glass at ArtCaffe, just along from the burger restaurant.

Kennedy Mungai, another young waiter, had been serving drinks there.

Nicholas and Mungai take up the story:

The young couple sheltered under a counter, Langdon with his arm around his heavily-pregnant partner, a futile protection against the bullets.

On the middle shopping level, Arthur Mbugwa was working at another coffee shop.

He had been serving hot chocolates to a mother and her two children.

When they finished their drinks, the woman had sent the youngsters upstairs to watch the fun at the kids' cooking competition on the top level.

Separated from her children when the attack started, she heard gunshots from above and below - and panicked.

Two gunmen had made their way up the ramp to the top floor parking lot where the children were.

At the same time, Arpana Patel - who had recently moved back home to Kenya from London - had just parked there.

She and her sister had been putting change into a ticket machine when the gunmen reached the top, threw a grenade and opened fire.

Patel and Mbugwa describe what happened next:

The mother who ran to find her children never came back.

She and her little girl were shot. But her son managed to escape.

The mall was in chaos. Dozens of people had been killed - and many more were wounded.

Word was getting out that something terrible was happening - but the gunmen were now hidden in the complex.

Ambi Ghataurhae, a Sikh father of three, had earlier dropped off his sons and daughter at Westgate with their mother and grandmother.

His niece had been doing well in the cooking competition and she wanted everyone around her.

Ghataurhae had had to go to a doctor's appointment, and had been planning to head back to join them all for lunch.

But then he got a call. His son and his mother had been shot.

Across town, Abdul Haji, a Somali Muslim businessman, was at a meeting. He got news from his brother who was trapped at Westgate.

Both men - Ghataurhae and Haji - were among the early responders who headed to the scene. Haji had a licensed firearm on him and was well trained.

Separately, they went inside the mall, trying to avoid the gunmen's bullets:

The screams of shoppers and staff, which had echoed through Westgate when the gunmen first struck, fell silent.

Those who had not escaped tried desperately to hide - terrified - anywhere they could, under tables and chairs, behind counters, in offices.

Many sheltered next to the bodies of fellow shoppers or colleagues.

Those in hiding wondered who would get to them first - the police and Kenyan security forces, or the militants and their guns.

That Saturday morning, Lizzie Wangari, had been working from a jewellery cart on the mall's first-floor.

She had managed to find a hiding place in an office.

Meanwhile, back at Urban Burgers on the ground floor, Arnold Nicholas - the waiter - had been shot in his arm and chest.

He was bleeding badly and, laying on the floor, he smeared his own blood on his face and head so that he would look like he had already been killed.

A call from his mother on his mobile phone was the lifeline he needed to help keep him conscious - keep him alive.

Wangari and Nicholas explain what happened as they waited:

It took about three hours from the start of the attack for an elite police squad to enter the Westgate complex.

The Kenyan army did not arrive for another hour after that.

There was confusion over how many attackers were in the building, and who had already gone in to confront them and rescue those trapped.

It was initially thought there were more than 10 militants at large.

It only later emerged that there were just four gunmen left in the building - shown on CCTV.

The suspects are believed to have been from the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab, allied to al-Qaeda. One is suspected of having had dual Somali-Norwegian citizenship.

In those early hours, one of the early responders - Abdul Haji - briefly came face to face with one of the militants.

As he hunted for his missing brother - working his way down the mall floor by floor - he also helped rescue several people, including a number of children.

On the ground floor at Urban Burgers, Arnold Nicholas was giving up.

He was struggling to stay awake - despite pleas from his mother at the end of the phone.

Both men take up the story:

After the early responders' efforts the Kenyan military took over.
Four days after it began, the Westgate attack was declared over.
At least 67 people died at Westgate.
Those killed came from 13 countries.
The Kenyan army says all four attackers died during the siege.