Incredible Israeli Tales of Lucky Escapes in Westgate Attack
Maidhc Ó Cathail
The Passionate Attachment
October 12, 2013
In the wake of terrorist attacks that invariably seem to benefit Israel, an increasingly expected feature is the incredible tales of lucky escapes — some less credible than others — subsequently told either by Israelis or Tel Aviv’s foreign agents. Soon after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the former chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in New York explained how his wife’s insistence that he not miss a dermatologist’s appointment that morning saved him from almost certain death in the Twin Towers. The owner of the World Trade Center had spent every morning subsequent to July 26 holding breakfast meetings in the Windows on the World restaurant and getting to know his new tenants right up to the morning of September 10. Within hours of three WTC towers being demolished, Silverstein’s close friend Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that the day’s horrific events would be “very good” for Israel’s relations with the United States.
Like the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., stories have also emerged of Israelis who miraculously escaped serious harm or death during last month’s terrorist attack on the Israeli-owned Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. As Albert Attias, the head of the Jewish community in the Kenyan capital and an Israeli military veteran, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
No Jews were among the victims of the attack, according to Attias, which occurred as many community members attended the bar mitzvah celebration of an Israeli diplomat’s son.
However, one member of the Jewish community, comprised mostly of Israeli businessmen and their families, who wasn’t lucky enough to have been attending the bar mitzvah celebration hosted by the anonymous diplomat as the attack started at the Israeli-owned Artcaffe brasserie, had his incredible tale recounted by a named Israeli diplomat. Reports The Jewish Press:
Omri, an Israeli employed at the Kenyan capital Nairobi Westgate shopping center which is still under terrorist attack this weekend, told Israeli consul Sima Amitai that he saw a hand grenade rolling between his legs and exploding. Both Omri’s legs were injured in the explosion, but only lightly. “It was a miracle,” he said.
Amitai met Omri in a Nairobi hospital where he had been treated for his injuries. She then took him to recover in her own apartment in toen [sic].
A report in Israel Hayom that only refers to “Omri” as “another Israeli who suffered light shrapnel wounds in his lower limbs” provides little further explanation of the consul’s surprising move:
He was taken to a local hospital, but the Israeli consul in Nairobi, Sima Amitai, decided to transfer him to her home for the reminder [sic] of his treatment.
Interestingly, the caring consul’s previous posting appears to have been to Bulgaria, a country that also recently experienced a murky terrorist attack on an Israeli target. There are reports of Amitai attending events in Sofia in 2006 and 2009, but it is unclear whether she was still working in Bulgaria during the Burgas bus bombing on July 18, 2012, or if by then she had already been posted to Kenya.
The Jewish Press also reports that Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy’s security officer arrived at the command center of the local security forces soon after the first reports about the attack:
“We knew the shopping center is owned by Israelis and renowned as a place where many Israelis hang out,” Lopez told Maariv. “Four of the restaurants there are also owned by Israelis and many Israelis are employed in the place. They were our main concern—but we also support our Kenyan friends and ready to assist in whichever way they ask.”
Yet despite the large number of Israeli employers, employees and customers one would normally expect to have been in the Westgate mall, “Omri” appears to have been only one of three Israeli nationals left inside the mall during the siege:
Two other Israelis had been trapped inside the mall. One, a woman, was eventually rescued by Kenyan forces. She reported hearing shots and hand grenade explosions around her hiding place. She kept in phone contact with embassy staff throughout the ordeal. A third Israeli managed to flee on his own from the mall.
Officials in the Israeli foreign ministry said that three Israeli citizens that were in the mall at the time of the attack were able to escape unharmed and were collected by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador to Kenya Yaki Lopez and the embassy security officer that were present on the scene.
Two Israeli men that managed to escape on their own and an Israeli woman that hid in one of the businesses and was rescued by the local security forces. A senior official at the foreign ministry said that the families of the Israelis that escaped the incident were informed. The ministry said that beyond these persons it is believed that no other Israelis were present.
Although Israeli police and intelligence sources are claiming that “they fell down badly in Kenya,” with Israeli security agents apparently having failed to detect extensive terrorist surveillance of the Westgate mall and the smuggling into it of large stocks of ammunition, they must at least be relieved that no Israeli suffered more than light shrapnel wounds in an attack that resulted in at least 72 deaths — and another massive boost for Israel’s already booming “security” industry.
Maidhc Ó Cathail is an investigative journalist and Middle East analyst. He is also the creator and editor of The Passionate Attachment blog, which focuses primarily on the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You can follow him on and Twitter @O_Cathail.