Death of terror leader brings closure to Kenyan victims

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022 20:31 | By
Scene of the August 7, 1998 bomb blast in Nairobi. PD/file

The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri has brought a “sense of closure” to Kenyan victims injured in al-Qaeda’s bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi 24 years ago.

The twin attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was one of al-Qaeda’s earliest attacks and caused over 200 deaths on the same day.

Douglas Sidialo, the spokesman of Kenyan victims’ association, termed al-Zawahiri’s killing “an act of God”.

He told the BBC’s Newsday programme: “It’s good that it has happened – that they’re bringing down those who were behind these heinous and barbaric acts.”

But he complained that damages to Kenyan families of victims or those injured in the attack had not been paid.

This is despite a promise by Joe Biden in 2010, when he was vice-president, to look into the issue of compensation during a visit to Nairobi. “I know the American citizens, contractors and employees of the embassy were compensated... but we as Kenyans have never been considered for compensation. And this has been a pain,” hew said.

“Americans should rise up to the occasion and see to it that we Kenyan victims are compensated. We must ensure the human rights of Kenyans are addressed just as much as the Americans.”

Simultaneous attacks

The US embassies in East Africa were targeted on 7 August 1998 using massive suicide truck bombs.

The first blast happened in the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam at around 10:30am local time and the second, just five minutes later, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.

In Nairobi a big office building next to the embassy was also destroyed – it wasn’t until an Israeli search-and-rescue team arrived two days later that the last bodies were retrieved.

224 people were killed in the simultaneous bombings, including 12 Americans. More than 5,000 were injured – hundreds blinded by flying glass.

Around 900 FBI agents went to investigate and determined that al-Qaeda was responsible.

More than 20 people were charged in connection with the bombings. Some are serving life sentences in the US; others not detained have been killed, like al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

But survivors, whose struggles are widely documented – with the yearly media coverage when families converge at the memorial park to lay wreaths and say prayers – want justice.

Some of them – about 500 in number but the list is growing – want compensation and their initial target is the Kenyan government, which they accuse of failing to seek justice on behalf of its citizens.

The group has also set their sights on the US, Sudan and Iran, which their lawyers say is also cited in several reports as giving support to al-Qaeda at the time.

“We shall continue to pursue justice locally and even up to international forums because we feel we have been unfairly treated,” said Stanley Mutuma, a victim who lost his sight in the blast.

They have partnered with Kituo Cha Sheria – meaning “Legal Advice Centre” in Swahili – a non-profit organisation that assists people on public interest litigation.

The group intends to file a petition at Kenya’s High Court and talks are also ongoing to file a case in US court.

“Since this [the embassy] was their property, they [the US] have that moral obligation to ensure that all the victims are considered in terms of compensation,” Mutuma said.

For Mutisya it is important to continue the fight before anymore survivors die.

“The incident is just like yesterday because we live with the pains.

“We’re nursing a lot of wounds, so we’re limited in doing our capability [to fight]. But we’ll still push for justice even if we are left a few of us.”                                               

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