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The PJ Tatler

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

September 27, 2013 - 7:19 pm

haji

What were the odds that two of the most talented combat photographers working today would be on the scene of the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi? One was the New York Times’ Tyler Hicks, who was at a nearby mall when the Al-Shabaab attack broke out, and whose wife Nichole Sobecki, also a photojournalist, ran home to get their helmets and Kevlar vests before they both plunged into the mall to cover the unfolding tragedy. The other, Goran Tomašević, has covered Serbia, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria; recently he settled in Nairobi as Reuters’ chief photographer for East Africa.

The above image was one of the countless haunting images captured that day by Tomašević, who was at home when he heard about a commotion at the mall and headed there.

The man in the checked shirt shows up in several of Goran’s photos from his 4-5 hours that he was able to accompany security forces inside the mall. Many of the plainclothes men in the day’s photos were police, but Abdul Haji, 39, is a real estate executive and son of a former security official.

As reported by ABC News:

As the gunmen began their rampage in Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall early Saturday afternoon, Haji got a short text from his brother who was at the mall. “I’m stuck at the Westgate. It’s probably a terrorist attack. Pray for me.” Haji’s immediate thought was that militants had gone to assassinate his brother.

Until just a few weeks ago, his brother was an undercover counterterrorism official battling organizations like al Shabab, the al Qaeda-linked group that has claimed responsibility for the four-day siege that left almost 70 people dead. But a local media outlet had recently revealed Haji’s brother’s identity and the family – including their father, a former defense minister – had started receiving death threats.

Haji says he grew up around guns and lately had been carrying his pistol with him. “I left where I was and I headed straight to the Westgate,” Haji told ABC News. “Luckily on that particular day I had actually carried my licensed gun with me so I didn’t have to go back home to waste time and pick up a gun, I went straight to the mall.”

Haji realized that the attack was bigger than an attack on his brother, and jumped in with security officials to go into the mall and save people. He provided cover for Red Cross workers and systematically searched through the stores for three harrowing hours. One of the men he was fighting with was shot in the stomach. One of the terrorists taunted Haji in Swahili: “As if it was a joke to him. This whole thing was a joke to him.”

Then comes the story behind the photo:

Nearby, a woman was trapped behind a table. Haji yelled at her to run to them but the woman, 39 year-old Katherine Walker, said she couldn’t because she had three young children with her. Haji told her to send the eldest, 4-year-old Portia, who ran across. “[A] very brave girl,” said Haji affectionately. “She’s running toward a man with a gun and she was very brave.”

“I don’t know how she knew to do it but she did,” Katherine Walker later told The Telegraph newspaper, “she did what she was told and she went.”

Walker and another woman followed close behind with the other two children who then re-united outside with the family’s two teenage sons who had been shopping elsewhere in the mall. “I was worried about family in America seeing [the photo] because we haven’t really shared the whole story with them yet,” Walker told the newspaper. “For me, I know the story behind it and that it ends well. I think I owe Mr. Haji a hug or two.”

Haji told the Telegraph that his father taught him to use a gun to protect their cattle from bandits when he was growing up.

Even after receiving a text saying that his brother had escaped, Haji kept rescuing others.

haji2

The death toll in the wicked attack is currently at 72, but the Kenyan Red Cross says 61 people are still missing as security officials carefully comb through rubble for fear that the terrorists planted bombs within.

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
You'll have to forgive me if I'm not joining in the heartwarming hosannas here. I just read in the UK Guardian about the unspeakable atrocities inflicted on the hostages (that we won't be reading about in the MSM) and I am not in the mood for string-plucking human interest stories.

I want to keep it civil so I'll choose my words carefully: A single competent rifle platoon, landed on the roof, should have been able to clean that place out in two hours. Instead, hundreds of Kenyan soldiers, police and various "security" detachments, running around like headless chickens and striking dramatic poses for the photogs, managed to keep this pooch-screw going for FOUR doggone days...in a "mall" that looks about the size of a single downtown department store in Yanqui-land.

As the place was managed by an Israeli company I'm not surprised it was floated to send in the Israeli commandos to do the job...but I don't have to be told to guess that little Kenyatta Jr. allowed himself to be shouted down by the Arab League.

This was an even worse show than the Mumbai follies. You may color me disgusted. However, given the quality of the performance art put on in the streets of Boston recently, our over-equipped, over-weight Homeland Security forces just may come close when it happens in the Mall of the Americas.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
When you disarm the law abiding citizens, only criminals have guns.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is what armed civilians can do to protect themselves, and others, from terrorist attacks. It takes brave men and women to resist, and escape, but it can be done.

I'll bet any amount of money that, if muslim terrorists ever launch a similar attack in America, it will be in a Blue state with seriously restrictive gun control laws (California comes to mind), and not in a "shall issue" state where citizens are allowed to carry their guns wherever they are likely to need them for self-defense.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Highest possible compliment -- extremely badass!!!
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
why has my comment been removed?...I wanted you to explain the use of tragedy and siege in the context of this story and its not fit to remain ..some journalist..some publication
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Kudos to the brave civilians and that country's military/law enforcement people that risked injury and/or death to save innocent people.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
As heartrending and restorative as this might be, there was one other individual who did the same; he Bridget, was an off duty SAS British military member who was carrying a weapon when this atrocity began...he rescued almost a hundred people that fateful day.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Links?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Highlighting this one story - one of many that day, but unique in that it was captured in some now-famous photos - doesn't downplay the heroics of so many who bravely saved lives that horrific day. The retired Royal Marine unfortunately can't be ID'd for security reasons. Haji's story is also unique in that he wasn't police or military yet plunged into the fighting like others and wielded his weapon quite well.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wrong the Brit was a retired Royal Marine. Once a Marine always Marine whether you wear the Globe and Anchor or the Crown and Globe.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Muslims gonna muzz.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Extremely bitter. Unsophisticated. Vulgar. From the gut. I like it. I like it a lot.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
And mindless idiots are going to pick up any ignorant phrase de jour that crawls out of the ghetto.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
If a Muslim like Abdul Haji lived next to me, I would feel safe and know i had a good neighbor. But how many Muslims are like Abdul Haji?

More Muslims are affiliates with the Islamic Society of north America (ISNA), the Muslim Student Association and CAIR.

There are form more people affiliated with the ISNA, CAIR, MSA, the Muslim protesters we see on the streets in the west than there are like Abdul Haji

So given what we see, given the odds RelayerM31's comment is accurate. And given the level of frustration his comments are understandable.

Either way the LSM is not going to like us.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
You'll have to forgive me if I'm not joining in the heartwarming hosannas here. I just read in the UK Guardian about the unspeakable atrocities inflicted on the hostages (that we won't be reading about in the MSM) and I am not in the mood for string-plucking human interest stories.

I want to keep it civil so I'll choose my words carefully: A single competent rifle platoon, landed on the roof, should have been able to clean that place out in two hours. Instead, hundreds of Kenyan soldiers, police and various "security" detachments, running around like headless chickens and striking dramatic poses for the photogs, managed to keep this pooch-screw going for FOUR doggone days...in a "mall" that looks about the size of a single downtown department store in Yanqui-land.

As the place was managed by an Israeli company I'm not surprised it was floated to send in the Israeli commandos to do the job...but I don't have to be told to guess that little Kenyatta Jr. allowed himself to be shouted down by the Arab League.

This was an even worse show than the Mumbai follies. You may color me disgusted. However, given the quality of the performance art put on in the streets of Boston recently, our over-equipped, over-weight Homeland Security forces just may come close when it happens in the Mall of the Americas.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
It will be worse if it comes to pass in a gun free zone in America. But you are grossly overstating the incompetents of Kenyan forces. The soldiers did exactly what was asked of them and even the police forces went forward when in America they would stand outside and wait for the correct union to send in their troops.

What would deter such attacks or keep them statistically insignificant? A very different mindset in the average American. All other decisions will follow the proper mindset...
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I want to keep it civil so I'll choose my words carefully: A single competent rifle platoon, landed on the roof, should have been able to clean that place out in two hours."

I have to say that the Kenyans were up against a far more formidable enemy than the various Washington DC police forces, the other day. In Washington, there was a single gunman, armed, at least initially, with a pump-action shotgun (any other gun he used, as I understand, was obtained from his victims - I apologize, if I have that wrong). The sole gunman in Washington was aided by lax security, both when he obtained his (apparently legally owned) firearm and when he gained access to the scene of his crimes, which was a military location.

The security forces in Nairobi were facing a greater number of gunmen, trained in a military style, even if not to US standards, armed with, at least, automatic rifles and hand-grenades. While the Nairobi terrorists were prepared to commit murder in a casual manner, in a far more densely populated place than the Washington Naval Yard, they also took hostages. Hostages immeasurably complicate the response of the government forces, for the obvious reason, to me, anyway, that a bungled rescue attempt (Munich, 1972, springs to mind) multiplies the number of innocent victims. The shopping mall was not a heavily defended place. Why would it have been? How many US malls are armed to the teeth? None that I've ever been in.

I don't recall that US soldiers, especially at "rifle platoon" level, have a terribly good record against Somalis, when it comes to rescue missions.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nice little insult gwily. You're a real card. I suggest you study the 2nd Battle of Fallujah if you care to know what U.S. soldiers--PROPERLY SUPPORTED--are capable of accomplishing.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
By the way, in your original post, you referred to "a single competent rifle platoon" - nothing about "PROPERLY SUPPORTED", which, presumably, means helicopter gunships, mortars and artillery.

That's not quite the same thing as "a single, competent rifle platoon", is it, you monumental moron?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
If it's Ok for you to insult Israelis and Kenyans, I don't see why I should shy away from a legitimate comment on US military incompetence. I think of the Hindenburg Line, Kasserine, Omaha, Vietnam, Benghazi...

The odd thing is that I am an admirer of the US, until I encounter an American who is such a total Dane as you.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
"A single competent rifle platoon, landed on the roof, should have been able to clean that place out in two hours."

Perhaps true, but what's the chance of finding one such unit in the whole of Africa? They had to make do with what they had.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I just mentioned, the Kenyans could have taken the Israeli building-management company's advice and made a formal request to the Israeli government to send in Sayeret Mashkal, but they would rather innocent people die than ask the joooz for help.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now you are just being stupid to reinforce your ignorance. Stay in your lane, son.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
When you disarm the law abiding citizens, only criminals have guns.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
A foundational part of a proper mindset. Well said.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is what armed civilians can do to protect themselves, and others, from terrorist attacks. It takes brave men and women to resist, and escape, but it can be done.

I'll bet any amount of money that, if muslim terrorists ever launch a similar attack in America, it will be in a Blue state with seriously restrictive gun control laws (California comes to mind), and not in a "shall issue" state where citizens are allowed to carry their guns wherever they are likely to need them for self-defense.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thank God for this man and his choice of bravery to face fear and rescue others.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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