Bill Clinton
Co-Operative Bank House
Daniel Moi
Davis & Shirtliff
Industrial Area
Kiswahili ‘Bellbottom
New York
Osama bin Laden
Teachers Service Commission
US embassy

Aug 7 bombing: What keeps terrorists at bay

Aug 7 bombing: What keeps terrorists at bay

Aerial view of the aftermath of the August 7, 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi: Terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere. FILE PHOTO | NMG

This week, Kenya commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Nairobi’s bomb blast. The blast at the then downtown US embassy was planned by Al Qaeda, a terror organisation that was run by Osama bin Laden. The bomb, as we have come to understand, was assembled in Runda, Nairobi.The day was August 7, 1998 at 10.15am. The result: more than 200 people died and more than 5,000 were injured.I had just passed outside the Embassy about an hour earlier on my way to Davis & Shirtliff headquarters in Industrial Area where I was doing some wall painting.

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When the bomb went off, I thought it was an explosion inside the premises that I was painting.Everybody, including the owner of the building came out.I walked to the main road only to be met by matatus moving fast from the direction of Nairobi’s CBD with full lights on and touts shouting Kiswahili ‘Bellbottom is Down’, referring to the Co-Operative Bank House that housed the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), next to where the US embassy used to be.Behind it, Ufundi Sacco Building collapsed and many were trapped in the rubble, scores died in the process.At the cafeteria of Davis & Shirtliff, television station KTN started beaming some pictures from the CNN feed. That is when Kenyans saw the power of modern media.We were used to watching State broadcaster KBC which at that time was showing children choir songs filmed in a past function of President Daniel Moi.A CNN reporter was broadcasting ‘Live’ outside Co-op Building using some simple-looking gadgets nobody had seen before.My friend on the sixteenth floor was on phone when the bomb went off, according to his account.He later told me that they rushed down but decided to divert to the balcony on the second floor because the ground floor was on fire.Luckily they found a mason’s rope hanging. One by one, they used the rope but his fingers got bruised in the ensuing friction, forcing him to let go of the rope and drop 15 feet down.He still managed to flee to safety and was guided to an ambulance and taken to hospital where he was admitted.He eventually developed high blood pressure. A former college mate who worked for the TSC suffered a debilitating stroke.Reports later indicated that somebody or some people had warned Embassy staff that the building was being filmed by people “who looked like white men”.Eventually, the apparent lack of interest to investigate the possible bombing led to something more tragic.On TV later in the evening I saw US President Bill Clinton at a function where he was asked about the bombing.He briefly talked about retaliation and went on to talk of other matters completely unrelated. I was shocked.Had the US not treated Nairobi bombings as a backwater outpost incident, the September 11 twin-tower attack in New York would have been avoided and thousands of lives saved.Indeed, terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere.Think of the hardened Israelis.They got wind of the Nairobi attack and immediately put together a rescue squad complete with equipment and sniffer dogs.They must have sought clearance from Kenyan government while already in the air because they got to the scene after about 14 hours only to get people trying to move boulders with bare hands.

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