A SURVIVOR of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack in Nairobi has returned to her home in Pontllanfraith for the first time since she and her son escaped the slaughter by militant gunmen.
In a surprise mother’s day visit for her mum Sue Mathias, Lynsey Khatau, 23, who splits her time between her home town of Pontllanfraith and Nairobi, Kenya, yesterday (FRI) came back to Gwent for the first time in two years.
And in an exclusive interview with the Argus, she revealed the lasting trauma she and her son have suffered after the terror attack. And she said she longs to return to live in Wales – but cannot after her Kenyan husband Max was deported from the UK in 2009 when his study visa ran out, and he wasn’t allowed to return with his wife yesterday.
She said: “When you’re brought up in a small town like Pontllanfraith, with small schools where everyone knows each other, it feels like there are no such things as robberies and murders.
“But I’m not allowed to live in my own country with my own family.”
Mrs Khatau said seeing the slaughter has changed her. She said: “It’s made me a pretty hard person. At first I was very vigilant – I’ve got my eyes on everyone around me. If anyone looks suspicious I am aware.”
In September of last year the Somali militant group al-Shabaab staged an attack on one of Nairobi’s busiest shopping malls, killing at least 67 people in a mass shooting that lasted for days. Mrs Khatau was one of the many shoppers inside, along with her husband of six years, Max Khatau and their son Caiz, who was four at the time.
Mrs Khatau was shopping with her family in the Nakumatt Supermarket on the ground floor of the six storey mall.
“I was looking around the butchery area and the lights went off. There, when the lights go off they usually come back on in a few seconds, but they didn’t. They went off for a good ten minutes. So I knew there was something wrong,” she explained.
“When I was in the mall, I heard a grenade go off outside. The grenade went off about five minutes after the lights came on, so they did take their time.
“So I just started going out and they were coming in. They were already shooting. They weren’t running, they were actually very relaxed – strolling through shooting.
“We just took a chance and ran out. If I die, I die – as long as I get Caiz out.
“They shot a man behind me – a taxi driver. That’s what Caiz saw. I was waiting to feel the bullets. I was very lucky.”
Mrs Khatau doesn’t know if the man was killed.
“We know a couple of people that were inside. They asked the Muslims to stand up and they asked them to recite the creed. Ours [Shia] is different to theirs [Sunni], so if they had asked Caiz he would have just said ours and they would have shot. There was one woman in there who said she was a Muslim but they shot her because she was not covered.
“[My mum] found out in Cwmbran. It came on the news. I’d already got out and got home by that time and I’d told my sisters ‘don’t say nothing until I speak to her’. She came on the Skype and she just broke down.”
Mrs Khatau said the attack made Caiz sleep in his parents’ bed even now. She returned to the mall with her son two weeks ago, where they have only recently removed the security fences.
She said: “He still remembers everything. The bullet holes are still there – the windows have still got shoot holes. He wasn’t actually upset, he was just saying the bad guys shot the man. But he remembers it all.
“It was really surreal for the first few days. We live less than a mile away and there were helicopters constantly hovering over us.
“You can’t go out. It’s a very dangerous place. Even now, there are still so many shootings going on.”