When a Terrorism Drill Turns Deadly
What was supposed to be a drill to prepare Kenyan students for a terrorist attack turned into a panicked frenzy in Nairobi Monday.
A security drill carried out at Nairobi’s Strathmore University Monday was supposed to prepare the campus for the possibility of a deadly terrorist attack. Instead, it practically turned into one: At least one staff member died and dozens of students and staff were injured -- several critically -- after they fled campus or jumped out of windows to avoid what they perceived to be an actual terrorist ambush.
A security drill carried out at Nairobi’s Strathmore University Monday was supposed to prepare the campus for the possibility of a deadly terrorist attack. Instead, it practically turned into one: At least one staff member died and dozens of students and staff were injured — several critically — after they fled campus or jumped out of windows to avoid what they perceived to be an actual terrorist ambush.
As a spokesman for the university put it in a phone call with Foreign Policy Monday: “It was very, very bad.”
At first glance, the panic might seem exaggerated. But in Kenya, the threat of such an attack is far from unrealistic. Last April, extremist gunmen affiliated with the al-Shabab terrorist group stormed Garissa University in eastern Kenya and systematically slaughtered Christian students. When the shooting stopped, more than 150 people, including at least four gunmen, lay dead. And in September 2013, al-Shabab gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing more than 60.
After the drill ended, Strathmore, a private university with roughly 5,000 students, posted a statement on Twitter saying it was an approved simulation and that students had already been “trained on evacuation, assembly points, and exit points.”
But some students and staff were evidently unaware when the drill would actually take place. “Unfortunately, some students and staff panicked and got injured,” the statement read.
Esther Kidemba, the staff member who died, reportedly worked in the university’s catering department. According to Strathmore’s official Twitter account, she “succumbed to severe head injuries.”
Photos emerged on social media of students hanging from windows of campus buildings, clearly panicked. Strathmore said in its statement Monday that any medical bills resulting from the drill will be covered by the university. But that might not be enough for those enraged by the university’s apparent lack of forewarning:
The university added in its statement Monday that it has already “started an intensive assessment of key lessons learnt during this simulation.” A guess as to what one of those lessons might be? There should be a better heads-up next time.
Photo credit: JOHN MUCHUCHA/AFP/Getty Images
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