Faizel Patel, Radio Islam News - 2013-10-01
In the aftermath of the horrific and despicable attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya where so many innocent people lost their lives, a Kenyan Muslim man has emerged as a hero.
Abdul Haji used his shooting skills to provide cover for the Kenyan Red Cross workers and to help evacuate some of the people who escaped the siege at the up market shopping centre that lasted three days.
Haji told the Daily Telegraph that he did what any Kenyan in his situation would have done to save lives, to save other humans regardless of their nationality, religion or creed.
His story with the Westgate mall attack started when he rushed to the mall after getting a text message from his brother who was trapped inside.
"We saw a lot of dead people. Very young people, children, old ladies, you cannot imagine,” Haji told the Kenyan television station NTV.
"From what they were doing, you could tell that these were not normal people. The fact that he was making a joke out of this whole thing made me much more angry and determined to engage them, and to shame them."
Standing with a fellow rescuer outside the Nakumatt supermarket, Haji said he noticed the women hiding under the table. "Just a few minutes ago we were exchanging fire with the terrorists and these people were right in the middle of it, in the crossfire. We regrouped and we started to strategize on how to get them out of there," he said.
He asked the women, including a 38 year old US citizen Katherine Walton, to move towards them but they indicated they had children with them and could not all run together.
Trying to save the women and children, Haji asked Katherine if she could let her older children run towards him.
At this moment, her oldest daughter Portia emerged and ran across the deserted corridor to Haji who was holding a gun. Seeing the little girl running towards him gave Haji fresh impetus to continue helping people out.
"This little girl is a very brave girl," he said.
"Amid all this chaos around her, she remained calm, she wasn't crying and she actually managed to run towards men who were holding guns. I was really touched by this and I thought if such a girl can be so brave ... it gave us all courage."
The moment was captured by a Reuter’s photographer, Goran Tomasevic, in a dramatic image that was beamed around the world.
Portia’s father Walton who was away on a business trip to the United States during the siege said he reacted in disbelief when he first saw the photograph of his daughter striking out alone across the mall.
"She's not normally the kind of girl that would run to a stranger, particularly one with a gun," he said.
His wife Katherine added: "I don't know how she knew to do it but she did. She did what she was told and she went."
Walton said there was no doubt that they would now be leaving Kenya. "There will always be bad people in the world but it's the comfort of knowing that there are good people that matters," he said.
"The way this community drew together and responded was just incredible. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to live among such good people."
Haji is the son of a former security minister in the Kenyan government. He said his father taught him to use a gun to protect their cattle from bandits when he was growing up.