When terror paid Nairobi a visit

On that fateful Friday morning eleven years ago, people were going about their usual business in a sunny chaotic morning on a busy Nairobi Street. Nobody expected it. No one could even imagine the scale of physical damage or psychological trauma that morning would leave on millions of people.
The terrorist attack on the us embasy in Kenya in 1998 (Net photo).
The terrorist attack on the us embasy in Kenya in 1998 (Net photo).

On that fateful Friday morning eleven years ago, people were going about their usual business in a sunny chaotic morning on a busy Nairobi Street. Nobody expected it. No one could even imagine the scale of physical damage or psychological trauma that morning would leave on millions of people.

Nobody knew that the worst terrorist attack in sub-Saharan Africa was about to place.

At 10:40 am East African time, all hell broke loose.
Suicide bombers exploded 700 kilos of TNT in a truck outside of the U.S. Embassy, next to the 22 storey Cooperative House. At the same time, another explosion rocked the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The attack took over 200 innocent lives most who might have had no idea that some people thought it right to sort their grudges by blowing up explosives on busy streets full of innocent unconcerned people. 5,000 people were left with all manner of injuries while tens of thousands more had to live with trauma.

A Normal Day

When Kenyans in their offices heard a loud bang coming from below, somewhere around the American embassy, they rushed to their windows to check what had happened.

What they did not know was that, the real big bang was coming a few seconds later. Then it happened.

According to a BBC report, people in the tall Cooperative Bank building staggered in darkness down blood-covered stairs. Outside was a scene of devastation.

The concrete embassy building had been reduced to a shell. Ufundi House, a seven story building could not withstand the shock.

It came tumbling to the ground with everything in it. Injured people were lying all over the ground, crying for help. Those who weren’t hurt began climbing up the remains of the collapsed block, scrabbling with their hands to try to reach people who were trapped in the rubble.

The office block had housed many businesses, including a secretarial college and the bomb had exploded when the area was at its busiest.

The explosion blew out the windows of surrounding buildings, spraying with broken glass all those that had come to the windows out of curiosity.

A Plan to Kill

Now, it is an open secret that the twin Nairobi and Dar es Salaam US embassy bombing was the handiwork of  Al Qaeda, then a young and not so well known group of Islamic fundamentalists led by the tall, slender elusive former architect Osama Bin Laden.

Three years later, details emerging from the trial in New York of Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali with three other men for plotting the twin blasts indicate that the young middle class Saudi was prepared to die for al-Qaeda, but was denied the martyrdom so carefully planned for him when he helped plant the bomb at the US embassy in Nairobi that killed 213 people.

Al-Owhali is said to have rode in a Toyota refrigerated truck loaded with explosives that was driven to the embassy. His job was to force the guard at gunpoint to open the gate and then clear the way for the truck by letting off homemade stun grenades to scatter any bystanders.

A New York Times report continues that the driver - another young Saudi called Azzam - would detonate the bomb from the cab using a switch attached to a battery.

If it failed to explode, al-Owhali would manually trigger the explosion by hurling a grenade at the heap of explosives stacked in the back of the truck.

But once Azzam had successfully parked the truck alongside the embassy, al-Owhali realized his job was done. It was no longer necessary to die, he told himself - and later his FBI interrogators. In a split-second judgment, he ran from the compound, and although hit by the blast when Azzam successfully detonated the bomb, he survived and was arrested five days later.

Frank Pressley, an American, who was working at the embassy, had just finished helping a colleague fix her fax machine when the bomb went off.

‘’Suddenly I was flying,’’ he said. ‘’Something picked me up and I went flying through the air. There were chunks of blood like red meat on the walls,’’ he recalled, laboring to maintain his poise. ‘’It was pretty shocking.’’

Painful Memories

Hedwig Kibukoysa told the BBC that, “I couldn’t help but have those memories because I go to this office which is so close to the embassy, and every time you look at it and all this activity going on, it all comes back. But it hasn’t affected me psychologically.

I’m a strong person,” she said. Ms Kibukosya’s words echo the pain that millions of Kenyans feel about the events of black Friday.

“There is not a family, not a district in Kenya that is not in some way affected,” Gitobu Imanyara, a Member of Parliament said soon after the blast. “In my district, 250 kilometers away, we will be burying three victims of the blast tomorrow.

The list of the dead -- they come from every part of this country.”
Gloria and Caroline Mutuiri, teen-age sisters, were trying to reach their dream of going to America. They had gone to the embassy to apply for visas.

The line was long, so they went to visit their mother, who worked next door at the Ufundi House. She never saw her daughters again and was lucky to live to tell the story.

Sarah Karugi, a clothing designer, whose sister, Margaret Uambui, a secretary on the 14th floor of the bank building was exasperated.

“They were innocent, and they were blown up,” but she was happy that Kenyans united at least for once. “We did not mind the tribes, the kind of people” being taken care of, she said.

“We were Kenyans. We did not have any boundaries.”
The U.S. insists that it should be held liable for the damages and suggests that al Qaeda should be held responsible for the suffering and the losses.

Hundreds of Kenyans injured, blinded or bereaved, are now engaged in a legal battle over some $7 million in frozen assets from al Qaeda sources, and claims that this money should be used to compensate the Kenyans.

The location where the embassy and the Ufundi Co-op buildings once stood has been transformed into the August 7th Memorial park. It has a beautiful fountain in front of a slab of concrete onto which all the victims names are etched into stone, in the memory of that horrific day.

A Daily Nation article says that the park “radiates beauty and serenity; a place with park benches and beautiful lawns occupied by those looking for peace and solitude. Some come just to relax and contemplate the skies.”

kelviod@yahoo.com

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