21 KILLED IN HOTEL RAID

Suspicion, improved security as DusitD2 marks attack anniversary

Workers say memories of indiscriminate shooting and gun fire have refused to leave

In Summary

•The facility has repackaged itself, sealing security loopholes and painting walls that were sprayed with bullets

Survivors run to safety after they were evacuated from the Dusit Hotel complex during the terror attack on January 15, 2019
UNBOWED: Survivors run to safety after they were evacuated from the Dusit Hotel complex during the terror attack on January 15, 2019
Image: FILE

 

The DusitD2 hotel complex was a relaxed place on Wednesday but with multilayered security checks that pointed to suspicion.

Security officers, including both uniformed and plain cloth GSU officers stood at strategic locations as the facility marked the first anniversary since a terror attack on its premises.

The are two more security checking points in addition to the only one that existed prior to the January 15 attack.

Al Shabaab militants stormed the hotel complex on Nairobi's Riverside Drive and unleashed terror by shooting indiscriminately at those on sight. Twenty-one people were killed. Scores others were injured.

The detour off the Riverside Drive entering the hotel complex has been lengthened with a giant gatehouse erected around 100 meters inside. It has a rigorous electronic and physical search. Sniffer dogs search motorists before they are allowed entry.

The search continues at the second gate where visitors give their identification documents for their details to be captured. One also explains the reason for visit here and the personnel can allow or disallow entry.

Suspicious security personnel both in uniform and plainclothes are on random standby inside and outside the gates. They ensure there is no unauthorised taking of pictures and idle standing around.

Last year, there was only a single security barrier.

Inside, the security guards are on a high alert decline. Only journalists with identification documents were allowed in.

“I was here when the attack happened. My colleagues were sprayed with bullets, some made it while others died. I cannot take risks,” a guard told us.

During the brief chat, the guard recounted how he escaped the attack alongside a client.

“I was clearing her when our colleagues came running and telling us to hide because we were under attack. When they (Al Shabaab) got to the barrier, some cars were ahead of them, so they got out and began shooting,” he said.

A receptionist at the management office told the Star the memories of January 15 last year had refused to die even though business had resumed like was before the attack.

"We're overly suspicious, not giving anything to chances," she said, explaining the enhanced watchfulness around.

The suspicion remain so high that even the Wednesday anniversary ceremony was privately conducted.

She said the security infrastructure deployed had the input of the state.

“We can never take this day like any other. In this premise or out, the memories remain,” said Stella Momanyi, a client who was in the hotel during the attack.

Stella Wanjiru, a restaurant attendant, said the serenity and quietness persisted from the previous day. She said it was part of the reason the memories of the attack have refused to disappear.

"It was just like today. The scar has not disappeared. The atmosphere of fear is not going away," Wanjiru said.

The hotel complex management had planned a private memorial service for the victims and their families while other organisations held separate memorial events in various locations.

Inside the complex, businesses had resumed their normal operations. A conference was ongoing inside the Dusit Hotel with a few people lounging in the restaurant.

Even though they were reluctant to talk to us, we could see the flow of traffic and busy staff behind the kitchen.

Opposite the hotel is also a shoe store that had also reopened after the attack. It's security guard told us that Cellulant Kenya Ltd who lost many of their employees had moved out.

According to the property managers, a number of businesses had moved out. They declined to disclose the number or their identities.

“We have remained resilient and compassionate. A majority of the tenants have since settled in well while new ones have signed up for the spaces that arose when a few occupiers vacated the premises for various reasons,” James Waithaka, Knight Frank communication officer said.

While some enterprises had reported low business especially just after reopening, some recorded even more work.

For instance, Control Risk which offers services including how to handle attacks or disasters, got more clients as more businesses realised the importance of teaching their employees how to protect or defend themselves.

The horrifying scenes of cars on fire, piles of bodies and blood painted walls had long been replaced by a beautiful landscaping and paint.

But the memories and scars remain with the people, and as most of them say, it may never leave.

 

edited by p.o