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The allure of death: How I survived Shabaab attack in Somalia

Tuesday April 2, 2024

Kenya Defence Forces soldiers patrol Tabda in the central sector of Somalia during 'Operation Linda Nchi' on February 20, 2012. File | Nation Media Group

Somalia is considered one of the most dangerous places to live due to the threat posed by the al-Shabaab militia.

But for some daring 18- and 20-year-old men from Meru County in Kenya, the allure of earning up to Ksh100,000 ($758) a month overrode the danger.

They left home with high hopes of making it in life to trade in Dhobley, a town located about five kilometres from the Kenyan border, selling plastic utensils and shoes, a lucrative business in Somalia.

Then tragedy struck. Last Friday, suspected Al-Shabaab militia invaded a business premises where the young men sold their wares and shot dead six of them.

On Sunday, the Kenyan government flew the bodies in a military chopper that landed at Isiolo airport.

Lewis Mwirigi, who survived the attack, recounted how he missed death by a whisker, as he ran for his life with bullets whizzing past his head.

“We opened our business premises at 6.45 am as usual and expected to make some good money because, during the holy month of Ramadhan, there is good business. Then around 7 am, a Toyota Probox pulled over near our shops and four hooded men came out,” he said.

Mwirigi said the men shot in the air but no one thought they were on a killing mission; armed men and gunshots are a daily occurrence in Somalia.

“Then suddenly the men opened fire on us and shot one of my colleagues. Several bullets bounced off the wall and one grazed my face. I was so shocked that the next thing I did was to take to my heels,” he said.

The attack lasted a few minutes. The attackers set the shops ablaze before quickly boarding their car and fleeing the scene.

When Mwirigi returned to the scene, accompanied by his other colleagues, he found four of his friends lying in a pool of blood. Two others were writhing in pain.

“They died on our way to the hospital. It was so terrifying that we could not continue living there,” said Alex Mutuma, another trader in Dhobley, adding that after the incident, several other colleagues decided to leave Somalia.

They arrived in Meru on Sunday morning.

Speaking to Nation.Africa at Mweronkanga village in Akithi ward, Tigania West, the young men vowed never to set foot in Somalia again.

Mutuma said they suspected that some locals who may not have been happy with their presence may have hired the hitmen.

“Business is good in Somalia, but it is not worth my life. I lost goods worth Sh300,000 but I thank God I am alive. I will never return there,” Mwirigi said.

Mutuma said that after seeing colleagues doing business there, making money, and providing for their families, they joined them and with business booming, they gradually got used to the hostile environment.

"Since I moved there three years ago, I have interacted well with Somalis and learned their language. But I think some people were not happy to see foreigners doing so well in their country," he said.


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