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Hunted down by Shabaab in Nairobi attack



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“I think we are going to have to fight these guys”, Ashford Maina told his colleagues, as Al-Shabaab gunmen closed in after chasing them through their office building.

A moment later a gunman flung open the door to the group’s hiding place — a men’s toilet — and pulled Maina out.

“They’ve taken Ashford and we heard gunshots,” one of the employees wrote in a message to colleagues at telecoms firm Cellulant.

Maina, 36, head of product development at the firm, had been killed.

He was one of six staff to be murdered in the attack at the Dusit hotel and office complex in Nairobi last week.

The harrowing tale of Cellulant employees fleeing in terror was recounted by their chief executive Ken Njoroge at a memorial service in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Njoroge pieced together the events from staff present that day at the Cellulant offices, spread over the fifth and sixth floors of one of five office buildings in the complex.

“I think sometime about three o’clock the teams heard the first explosion,” Njoroge said, as a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Secret Garden restaurant, where at least five of the 21 victims were killed.

A second explosion followed shortly thereafter, accompanied by gunfire. Police have established there were four gunmen along with the suicide bomber.

Njoroge said scores of employees made it out through two exits before the gunmen entered the building.

“I think one of the gunmen… realised there were people (going) out of the exit… he took an elevated position and started to shoot at people leaving the building.”

At this time 17 staff members were still stuck inside.

A group of six sought refuge on the first floor, hiding in a small room under the stairs.

“The rest of the group ran upstairs to the fifth floor and could feel someone shooting at them as they crossed from the exit back into the office,” said Njoroge.

He said that in the offices, “all glass and very open”, the only place of refuge was the washrooms.

“I think one of the gunmen, maybe two, followed them up, they… broke the glass door into the office and went into the washrooms, flung open the men’s room (door) and our colleague Ashford was there and they grabbed him and pulled him out.”

After shooting Maina, the gunmen tried to force their way into the ladies room, where those inside strained against the door.

Njoroge said the women had recounted that one of the gunmen kept saying: “We know you are in there, open up”.

“For some strange reason they left,” after a while, he said.

Meanwhile from the small room under the stairs, the six hiding inside sent messages pleading for help as gunshots came closer.

“They could feel the gunman walking the stairs, and described it as if this guy was walking on their heads, he was running his gun along the metal railing of the stairs,” said Njoroge.

Inside, the five men had formed a wall around a female colleague and “tucked” her at the back “so nobody could see her”, he said.

The gunman “opened the door, introduced himself as Al-Shabaab, and shot into the colleagues.”

The women, who survived, said she had smeared blood on herself to play dead, as she lay among her five dead colleagues waiting for rescue.

Cellulant was one of the hardest hit companies in the attack, with the Dusit hotel itself also losing six staff.


Here is how Cellutant paid tribute to them:

Ashford was the ultimate geek. His knowledge of everything about everything was hilarious. He will be remembered best for his big smile, warm personality, his kindness, love to everyone and most importantly his tenacity. Acts 6:8 -10 describes him best.

  • Dennis Mwaniki – Head of Information Security

    Denis was a curious explorer, strategic thinker, a gentleman and exemplary leader. He was a calm spirit, humble and a great friend. His intellect and quick thinking got Cellulant the coveted global ISO 27001 information security certification.

  • Jeremiah Mbaria – Head of Hub

    Jeremiah was not just a leader, he was a brother and a mentor to many. He guided his team with humility and corrected with humour. He loved God and everyone he came across; and always challenged his team to grow.

  • John Ndiritu – Quality Assurance Tester

    John was always jovial, calm and best known for his humour. If you needed a laugh, he would be your guy. He was always willing to go the extra mile to put in extra time and effort to help when called upon. “Just because it is not my job, does not mean that I cannot do it”, he would say.

  • Kelvin Gitonga – Hub Engineer

    Kelvin will be remembered as an intelligent and versatile engineer who worked in the Hub implementation department. To him, technology would change the world. He was very passionate about his work and wanted to know everything JavaScript.

  • Wilfred Kareithi – Implementation Engineer, Global Delivery Team

    Wilfred was an energetic, always happy individual who never shied away from taking on tasks, no matter how challenging. He helped unconditionally and always sought to mentor new staff members and share knowledge on any new discovery.

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