Nairobi, Kenya — In a dilapidated, dust-clogged hut, three of her 12 children lay in their beds and took turns playing guitar, guitar, guitar, letting out wailing cries, as their parents sat at the edge of a hospital bed.
“I think this place is very painful and very dangerous,” said Eric Kiragu. “It’s a nightmare.”
“I can’t understand how people can sleep and eat in this space,” said a gravely wounded, gaunt Johane Kiragu, 35. “The bed is dirty, we use a bucket for waste. The ground is dirty. We don’t even know where to eat.”
Reyna Mama’s home was just one of the shanties in Nairobi crowded with bloodied children, victims of an attack that Kenyan security forces are trying to quell. More than 60 suspected attackers in an Islamic extremist siege on several buildings in the Kenyan capital were killed as officers went house to house, combing through the dead and wounded for the missing, and then corralling survivors into a church and a mortuary. The toll in the attack, the worst in years, has risen to at least 61 dead.
“The terrorists are not using the same route every day, so when police approach the houses, they set up roadblocks to stop the bloodbath,” said Kiragu, a laborer in the city. “So when we heard the gunshots, we rushed to their house. We don’t know the extent to which they were hit, but we know that some of them died.”
“We are all facing a very bad situation,” he said. “We wish that this situation will be resolved immediately. The government has been lax and lackadaisical, we want to see the security situation improve. Otherwise, we will be sleeping on the streets.”
On July 8, three days after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Japan that left more than 7,500 dead, a Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, affiliated with al-Qaida, vowed to strike Kenya, the United States and “steal their mineral wealth.”
Al-Shabab, based in neighboring Somalia, also has been accused of carrying out the December 2009 attack on an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi in which over 60 people died.
Yusuf Abdi, who works in the town of Mandera in northeast Kenya, said that because many residents are unemployed, the jobless who can’t stay at home prey on children in the community.
“Al-Shabab elements are looking for children,” he said. “They look for children under age 12, they recruit them because most boys here go to work at the farms and earn between $10 to $15 dollars a day. Some are old, in the adult age bracket, so they’re forced to make love with these people because they get some kind of honor.”
“The most vulnerable are those kids below age 12 years,” he said. “If you teach them to tie their mouth before we go into village, they will tie the hand until late in the night. They think they’re the right person to protect the village. But then they come back home early at 4 or 5 a.m. and start raping them and they’re going to attack the mother. In one of the attacks, the family of the young girl was already dead and the attackers killed her mother.”
Danne Nakipanja, 29, said that on Friday morning, a gunman entered her family’s house in the heart of Nairobi, riding a motorcycle, fired shots and slit her mother’s throat. Her younger brother, 7-year-old Ochieng, was shot in the leg as he tried to run for cover.
“We thought Ochieng was near death,” she said. “We called the doctors, but they said that he’s okay and we should bring him home. Then, as I brought him home, another bullet shot in my leg and then I screamed.”
The family ran into a Kenyan army convoy and was taken to a security camp. At that point, the girl was smuggled to safety. But the family of four was trapped in the gun-battling battle that raged around them for more than 12 hours.
“I hope that Ochieng is safe, but there are a lot of kids who are still there,” she said. “But the military are keeping all the bodies.”
Hezbettah, one of al-Shabab’s media arms, claimed responsibility for the attack.