Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Kenya attack: Shrapnel removed from Kiwi's back

Andrew McLaren, pictured here with wife Kathy, had been spending time between Narobi and Kerikeri for a natural health products company.
Andrew McLaren, pictured here with wife Kathy, had been spending time between Narobi and Kerikeri for a natural health products company.

A New Zealand man who narrowly survived a massacre at a Kenyan mall is undergoing surgery today to remove shrapnel after being shot in the back, while another Kiwi at the mall has described hiding in a box to avoid attackers.

Andrew McLaren and his wife Kathy were at a cafe in the Westgate mall in the capital Nairobi when militants linked to al-Qaeda opened fire on Saturday, killing at least 68 people and injuring 175.

The couple got down but Mr McLaren was shot in the back as he sheltered from the indiscriminate shower of gunfire. He was rushed to Aga Khan Hospital in a taxi and was due to undergo surgery to remove bullet fragments today.

Mr McLaren, 34, from Hastings, had worked in Kenya since 2011 as the operations manager for Olivado, a natural health products company with production bases in Kerikeri and Nairobi.

Olivado chief executive Gary Hannam, who flew into Nairobi yesterday, said Mr McLaren was lucky to have survived but was coping well.

"I think anybody who got out of that carnage is exceptionally lucky," he said.

"He's obviously had a horrific experience. He had a bullet wound and he's having an operation this morning, but in spite of his injuries he's very well and his wife is supremely staunch."

The bullet had gone into Mr McLaren's back but did not cause much damage. Surgeons at the hospital had told him he could have the operation when he returned to New Zealand, but it was better to get it done earlier.

It would take Mr McLaren about three or four weeks to recover.

Mr Hannam spoke to the McLarens yesterday about their ordeal, which Mr Hannam described as like being in a war - except as an act of terrorism, it was "worse than being in a war".

"They were actually sitting in a cafe and they heard some gunfire from inside the building. The cafe terrace faced the road, so they got down and bullets were just going everywhere - I mean, these guys were firing indiscriminately all over the place.

"Andrew got hit and there was an older gentleman who was nearby them who told them to stay down."

Mr Hannam said a cafe worker got the couple to safety and put them in a taxi.

"They were one of the first people to the Aga Khan Hospital, so he was saved - very lucky."

Mr Hannam said people in Nairobi were in shock.

"Nairobi, in spite of its reputation, is a very quiet place. I've been coming here for a long time and this is not what usually happens," he said.

"This is a terrorist attack, and it's not something that's a reflection upon the safety of the place."

A nurse at Aga Khan Hospital's surgical ward said Mr McLaren was "very stable" but was not available to talk.

Mr McLaren's mother, Elaine McLaren, said she was still waiting to speak to her son.

"I've got my fingers crossed ... I'm sure he'll be fine, we're just waiting at this stage," she said today.

Mr McLaren's rugby club posted on its Facebook page: "The Havelock North Rugby Club would like to send our aroha and mana to Andrew and Kath McLaren."

The massacre is the second violent incident involving Olivado in Nairobi. In 2007, Aucklander Julian Nathan, 76, was beaten to death by intruders in an apartment complex where he was staying with two colleagues of his son Chris, who worked for the company.

Olivado general manager Sarah Nicholls said the attack had been a shock for workers in Kerikeri, where Mr McLaren worked for half the year.

She said Kenya was not an unsafe place and it was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Our operation there has obviously been going for about five or six years we've just built a new factory there. We're really happy with it, we're really happy with the production and Andrew's done a fantastic job there this year."

Kenya's military today said it had rescued most of the hostages who had been held captive during the two-day standoff.

The al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, which it said was in response to Kenya's peacekeeping forces entering neighbouring Somalia two years ago.

Another New Zealand man hid in a box before making a daring dash to safety as extremists rampaged through the Kenyan mall.

Greg Aldous, the creative director for advertising firm Ogilvy Africa, was trapped in the middle of the Westgate mall in Nairobi for an hour as the attack started.

He told the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper it was a "terrifying situation''.

"They were coming in through the front, they were coming through the back, and we were just sitting ducks.''

Mr Aldous, who worked in Adelaide from 2007 to 2011, said he ran towards an emergency exit at the back of a supermarket, but snipers on rooftops were shooting people as they ran out.

He watched as someone was gunned down only 10 metres from where he stood.

Mr Aldous said his instinct was to hide, which he did for 20 minutes in a large box full of supermarket cartons. He said he only survived because he kept out of sight.

He told the Advertiser that he later made his way to a truck loading depot, where panicking people sheltered from bullets behind trucks.

Mr Aldous and the others were able to escape through a car park when security officers shot at the snipers, which created a diversion.

"I kicked off my sandals and took off up the road for 500 metres until I was below the hill,'' he said.

Mr Aldous, who still owns a house in Adelaide, said he had been held up before but had never been so frightened.

- Additional reporting Hawke's Bay Today

- APNZ

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