Italians hide in stairwell to escape Kenya siege

Ten Italians have escaped from a Nairobi shopping mall siege where Somali militants killed at least 68 people, an embassy spokeswoman told The Local.

Italians hide in stairwell to escape Kenya siege
Somali militants launched the attack on Saturday. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP

The wife and two children of a director at the Italian Development Cooperation, part of the Foreign Ministry, spent an hour and a half hiding in a stairwell before they were saved by police.

"They were in the middle of the mall, on their way to the fish shop, when the lady first heard explosions. She immediately ran to the emergency staircase," a spokeswoman at the Italian embassy in Nairobi told The Local.

Another Italian woman escaped by hiding in a safari shop for three hours on Saturday afternoon after Somali al-Shabab militants launched the attack at Westgate shopping mall.

Two women who work at the Italian embassy, one shopping with her two children, were also in the mall at the time of the attack. Both escaped and were back at work on Monday morning, but the embassy car remains abandoned in the shopping mall car park, the spokeswoman said.

Ten Italians were caught up in the siege, now entering its third day, which began when militants sprayed machine-gun fire at shoppers and threw grenades around the building.

Sixty-eight people are known to have been killed, although police sources said they feared the number could be much higher. Around 200 people have been injured.

A number of foreigners have been killed, including three Britons, two French women, two Canadians and a Dutch woman, according to their governments.

The al-Qaeda linked group said the attack was in response to the presence of Kenyan troops in Somali, where they are fighting against the Islamist militants.

The siege is the worst terrorist attack in the Kenyan capital since 1998, when an al-Qaeda bombing at the US embassy killed more than 200 people. 

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Over 300 ho-ho-hopefuls vie for Rome Santa job

An unemployed man from a town near Rome fended off competition from over 300 rivals to be hired as Father Christmas at a shopping centre in the east of the capital. But the job isn't always a barrel of laughs, or so professional Santas say.

Over 300 ho-ho-hopefuls vie for Rome Santa job
Over 300 Santas vied for the job in Rome. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

It wasn’t just a matter of 61-year-old Claudio Rachiale donning a red outfit and white, fluffy beard to get the job.

In fact, the “perfect look” was the least important requirement for the role.

Along with the other applicants, including dozens of professional Santas, Rachiale had to undergo a tough casting process, the sort usually reserved for films and television.

Apart from having to be over the age of 60, those screened for the job at Roma Est shopping centre also had to show some flair for storytelling and improvisation.

Rachiale was offered the job after giving the best answer among the 10 shortlisted Santas to the question: “How would you enter a house if it doesn’t have access via a chimney?”

Sergio Ravanelli, the director of Kimbe, the Lombardy-based events company that organized the casting, told La Stampa that over 300 people had applied for the job, which pays €2,000 for 11 days work.

Among them were 65-year-old Giuseppe Benavoli and Liborio Di Martino, 64, who had both worked as Father Christmas before.

The role of chirpy Santa might sound as if it comes with nothing but good cheer as joy is brought to excited children in the run-up to Christmas, but both said it’s a challenging job.

Di Martino offered one or two pearls of wisdom: “The salary seems high, but you need to know what you’re expected to do,” he told La Stampa.

“For example, they might ask you to deliver presents – in which case, you’ll have to think about the petrol needed for the car. What if they expect you to be outside all day, in the cold of December? And is the stated salary before or after tax?”

Benavoli said “it’s not easy being Father Christmas”, particularly as “children nowadays are much more savvy”.

“They ask you where the reindeers are and what we have for them to eat,” he added.

“Last year there was a girl who insisted on waiting around until closing time to see where I would go. Having told her that reindeers would come and get me, being seen getting into my car would have raised the question of credibility. In the end, I asked the store’s staff to distract her while I tried to slip away.”