Cameraman Mohammed Shaffi, the only one of four Reuters journalists who survived a Somali mob attack last week, was almost strangled as he lay wounded in a car he thought was taking him to safety.
Four journalists--Reuters photographer Hos Maina, 38, and Reuters Television soundman Anthony Macharia, 22, both Kenyans; Reuters photographer Dan Eldon, 22, who held dual U.S. and British citizenship; and Hansi Krauss, 30, a German photographer for the Associated Press--died in an outburst of rage against foreigners after U.N. troops attacked warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid’s command center in Mogadishu.
Recalling the events leading to the mob attack, Shaffi said he was having morning tea with the commander of the Pakistani contingent in Somalia when U.S. helicopter gunships began attacking the command center.
“The Pakistani commander did not know what was going on and seemed surprised by the American attack,” he said.
Shaffi said he raced back to his hotel to assess the situation with other journalists. “We all talked about trying to get to the scene, but it was agreed it was too dangerous to do that while the gunships were firing.”
Shaffi said 15 minutes after the end of the nearly one-hour attack, a car arrived from Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid’s SNA movement to take journalists to the scene to “show them what the Americans had done.”
“This was quite common, but I had not seen these people before, so I questioned them about our safety,” Shaffi said. After receiving assurances “we would be safe, and they would protect us,” Shaffi said they followed the SNA car.
“We parked our car outside a house which had been demolished during the attack.
“There were about a thousand Somalis in the compound at the front of the house. The people were very angry but their anger was not directed towards us,” Shaffi said.
“The SNA guards cleared a path through the crowd for us, and we went to the front of the compound,” he said.
“I did not see the German guy from AP . . . he had just arrived, and I didn’t really know him. . . . All of us had been filming and photographing for about three or four minutes.”
Shaffi said they moved toward the house at the instigation of one of the SNA guards who wanted to show them more bodies. Then the crowd attacked.
“They started throwing stones at us and pushing us. The last I remember Dan saying was when he shouted: ‘Shaffi, let’s get out of here!’
“I shouted, ‘Yes,’ and unplugged the audio cable from my camera, and yelled at Anthony to run. This took a matter of seconds, and I remember seeing Anthony, Dan and a guy who I know was the AP photographer running out of the compound. . . . I don’t know where Hos was and I didn’t see him.”
Shaffi said he also ran out of the compound.
“But the crowd caught up with me and began attacking me. Someone threw a big stone at me, which hit me high up on the back and I fell down. They started throwing stones at me, throwing them at my back and legs, and one guy was beating me with a long piece of wood.
“I thought to myself, hell! I don’t want to die like this!
“I don’t know where I got the strength, but I managed to get up and just run, pushing people as I went.
“I managed to break through the people, but there was a guy in front of me . . . about 25 or 30 feet away. . . . He had an AK-47 and he fired at me. . . . I had my (flak) jacket on . . . but I thought I was going to die. . . . I was running towards him and he fired . . . I don’t know, I think either three or four shots. . . . One of them hit me in my arm. . . . It burned a lot, and I fell down, but managed to roll over and get straight back up.
“That’s when I saw Dan and Anthony. They had reached a junction in a road, and they turned down an alley. . . . There was a crowd of people running after them. . . .”
Shaffi said the crowd chased him in the same direction. At the corner he saw Eldon’s flak jacket, but no sign of the two Reuters men.
“I was happy to see the flak jacket,” he said. “For me it meant Dan was alive, he was smart, he realized he couldn’t run properly with the weight of the jacket, and he must have taken it off.”
Shaffi said as he was running he saw a Landcruiser, “pulled open the doors and sort of pulled myself in.”
“It was full of people. . . . I shouted I wanted to go to the hotel and as they drove, I kept looking for Dan and Anthony.”
He said he thought he was safe until the vehicle passed his hotel and continued toward the Sahara Market, an Aidid stronghold.
“I panicked . . . I told them they were going the wrong way, and that I wanted to go to the hotel. . . . I pleaded with them . . . but they laughed.”
“A man in the front of the car reached over and . . . tried to strangle me. I was trying to pull his hands away, but he just held on.
“I screamed that I was a Kenyan and asked if anyone spoke English . . . but they just laughed at me. I pleaded with them to take me to the hotel. . . . They told me (in English) I was a Pakistani . . . then they told me I was a Christian.
“I kept telling them I was Kenyan, and I spoke some words from the Koran. . . . I began talking a lot . . . pleading . . . I thought they were taking me away to kill me.”
Shaffi said after a while he saw his hotel again.
“I don’t know why, but the driver suddenly slowed the vehicle. One man leaned forward and pushed open the two doors. Someone kicked me into the street and the car sped up.”
Shaffi was safe. But his friends were dead.