A former elite soldier in the Irish Army has described for the first time his role in helping hundreds of trapped people escape from terrorist gunmen in September’s siege in the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

The 37-year-old ex-soldier, who was a member of the elite Ranger special force unit in the Irish Army, is now a Nairobi-based security consultant overseeing the safety of 5,500 oil company employees across East Africa.

The ex-soldier, whose identity is being protected for his own security, was seen by millions on a photograph which went around the world as he helped the wounded in one of the Westgate Mall car parks.

He was home in Ireland last week visiting his family and he described for the Sunday Independent the terror inside the mall as frightened men, women and children sought shelter from the gunmen.

He told the paper, which changed his name simply to Jack to protect his identity, that he was alerted to the siege by a text message at his office. A client and his wife were with 100 others in a restaurant storage area.

Jack and his boss, also a former soldier who was in Britain’s SAS, were unarmed as they dashed to the mall.

The first shots were fired in their direction as they reached glass doors leading from an underground car park into the mall.

“They fired four shots in our direction...I have been shot at many times over the years and am well aware of the sound of fire coming in my direction,” Jack said.

The pair sought another entry point, and that’s when they started leading people to safety. At one stage they encountered up to 200 staff and customers at the rear of a supermarket where a lot of the killing took place. There was “chaos and panic.”

Jack said, “We took control of the situation and started sending people in pairs down the service road to safety. ”

Jack counted at least 30 people dead and more wounded in an area where he later learned a children’s cookery competition was under way when the attack started.

Eventually Jack was handed an automatic pistol with 15 rounds by a civilian.  He was forced to open fire on a group of terrorists as he and an accompanying armed Kenyan policeman headed for the restaurant where his client and wife were hidden.

According to subsequent reports one of the terrorists was killed by Jack’s fire.

When he reached his client Jack arranged an escape route for about 100 people who were also in the restaurant store room. He directed them in three groups towards his colleague who was at that stage in another café and guided them towards a safe exit.

The siege lasted another three days. At least 70 people died in the attack.