Editor's note: This article is cross-posted at JohnHanlonReviews.com.
When terrorist attacks occur overseas, their impact is often underestimated by Westerners who simply see the story on the news and then forget about it. The new HBO documentary Terror at the Mall (premiering tonight at 9 PM) brings such an attack into our living rooms by displaying real surveillance camera footage of a September 2013 terrorist attack in Kenya.
It’s easy to forget about a terrorist attack when it doesn’t occur in your backyard. It’s hard to forget one that looks and feels like something that you could experience while shopping at a local outlet.
“It was more than just a mall. It was really a part of our lives,” one shopper— who experienced the attack firsthand—notes in talking about Westgate, her local mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Like some American malls, Westgate houses several restaurants near the front and a grocery store at the back. These two locations play a pivotal role in this drama as four Somalian psychopaths invade these stores— killing men, women and children alike. Sixty-one people were eventually murdered by the terrorists in the attack including a dozen children and three pregnant women.
Terror at the Mall vividly portrays these events by mixing real surveillance footage with interviews with those who survived the attack. From the mothers who clung to their children to a set of brothers that was separated from their Mom in the midst of the crisis, this movie never holds back on showing how heartbreaking and painful this experience must have been.
To its credit, it also holds back no punches and shows the blatant disregard these terrorists had for human life (the surveillance footage is hard to watch and does show some of the murders taking place). As noted by the witnesses, the quartet of terrorists often asked shoppers which religion they were (some Muslims were eventually freed). When one woman notes her Christian faith, she gets killed. When an older woman pauses at the question (wondering what answer they are looking for), she is murdered as well. But as the story shows, many—if not most— of the victims of the mall attack were Muslims themselves.
These men simply had no respect for human life.
Despite its length at approximately one hour, watching this is a difficult experience because the footage is both real and heartbreaking to watch. The narrator notes that it’s likely that a few thousand people walked into the mall that day simply to shop for a few items. In addition to the dozens who were killed, hundreds were left with permanent injuries.
It’s worth noting also that the documentary doesn’t settle at simply showing the action inside the mall. It also presents an unflattering portrait of the Kenya police force which doesn’t enter the mall until three and a half hours after the attack began (a few heroic undercover police officers and two brave men had entered earlier on their own accord).
Terror at the Mall does in sixty minutes what news organizations can’t do in hours of programming. It brings an overseas terror attack home and shows— minute by minute— the horror that these innocent people experienced less than a year ago. When it’s hard to grasp what terrorists are doing to innocent people overseas, movies like Terror at the Mall help show the weaknesses of these monsters and the strength of those who are willing to save others despite the danger they face themselves.