By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
The recent deadly terrorist attack on a major mall in Nairobi, Kenya has American doctors and nurses canceling trips that were planned to help the east African country’s sick as fear of more attacks on foreigners paralyzes travelers.
Cullman-based Kenya Relief had planned to send a surgical team from New York City with six University of Birmingham Hospital nurses to the country on Tuesday, Oct. 3, but the trip will probably be scratched due to the medical group’s safety concerns, said Kenya Relief President Steve James.
“The situation has definitely affected our work because people are scared to death right now,” James said. “We can be handicapped by our surgical teams. Everyone is concerned about safety. There’s fear there may be another attack.”
On Saturday, Al-Shabab, an armed Somali Islamic extremist group, stormed into the crowded Westgate Mall, slaughtering men, women and children with assault rifles and grenades and taking people hostage. The current death toll is 67 and is likely to climb with uncounted bodies remaining in the rubble of the Nairobi mall.
The terrorist organization which is aligned with Al-Qaeda said Wednesday that foreigners were a “legitimate target” and confirmed witness accounts that gunmen tried to let Muslims go free at the mall while killing or taking the others captive. In an email exchange Wednesday with The Associated Press, al-Shabab said “The Mujahideen carried out a meticulous vetting process at the mall and have taken every possible precaution to separate the Muslims from the Kuffar (disbelievers) before carrying out their attack.”
At least 18 foreigners were killed, including six Britons, citizens from France, Canada, Trinidad, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a national address this week that five terrorists were shot and killed, and 11 suspects were taken into custody.
James said four U.S. citizens working for Kenya Relief are in the country now. The non-profit medical charity performs a variety of medical procedures at the Dr. David Brase Clinic and Vision Center established in Migori in honor of the late Cullman physician.
Cullman nurse practitioner Cindy Hawkins has made four trips with Kenya Relief. She said she will not be deterred by the recent terrorism attack.
“I plan to go back next July,” she said. “Unfortunately this is just the world we live in, and things like this happen. I’m going to stand firm in God and know he will protect me.”
New safety procedures are in the works for Kenya Relief medical staff in the wake of the mall attack, James said. Groups flying into the Nairobi airport will now be taken directly to its secure Migori compound.
Like many Kenyans, James fears the crisis could seriously hurt the economy, which is fueled by tourism and outside investment and is highly vulnerable to swings in perception.
“I’m afraid the long-term affects are going to be people from all over will cancel their trips, whether it’s tourists or charities, by the thousands,” he said. “But if ever there was a time to help Kenya, it’s now. Terrorism is not a Kenya problem. It’s a universal problem we all have to find a way to solve.”
To donate or for more information about Kenya Relief, go online to kenyarelief.org or call 256-531-2535.
The Associated press contributed to this report.
Tiffeny Owens can be reached email at email@example.com or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.