Kenya, Tanzania mark bombings which introduced Al-Qaeda

Kenyan security guards keep watch over the scene of the bomb explosion the day before near the US embassy in Nairobi on August 8, 1998. (AFP/Alexander Joe)
Updated 05 August 2018
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Kenya, Tanzania mark bombings which introduced Al-Qaeda

  • On August 7, 1998, 2 massive blast hit the US embassy in downtown Nairobi and Dar es Salaam
  • Total death toll was 24 people and with around 5,000 injured

NAIROBI: Kenya and Tanzania on Tuesday mark 20 years since the devastating US embassy bombings that thrust Al-Qaeda onto the global stage and went on to shape how a generation thinks about personal security.
It was mid-morning on August 7, 1998, when the first massive blast hit the US embassy in downtown Nairobi, followed minutes later by an explosion in Dar es Salaam, killing a total of 224 people and injuring around 5,000 — almost all of them Africans.
With two monster bombs loaded onto the back of trucks and a trail of carnage in east Africa, the world was introduced to Osama bin Laden three years before the September 11 attacks in New York would make him a household name.
“It wasn’t the first time Al-Qaeda had carried out an attack, but in terms of the spectacular, catastrophic nature of the incident, they really announced their entry onto the world stage,” said Martin Kimani, head of Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Center.
“When 9/11 happened it was shocking and surprising, but a precedent had been set here in east Africa.”
According to “The Looming Tower,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the rise of Al-Qaeda, bin Laden gave various reasons for targeting the embassies, such as the deployment of American troops to Somalia and a US plan to partition Sudan, where he had lived for five years until being expelled in 1996.
However, author Lawrence Wright concluded that the main goal was to “lure the United States into Afghanistan.”
This aim was achieved, in the aftermath of the attacks, with the US launching strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan that were “largely seen as ineffective,” said Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert at the Brookings Institution.
The strikes led the Taliban in Afghanistan to “embrace the group more closely,” he said, and also boosted the image of a group seen as standing up to the United States in the Muslim world.
Byman said the attack was the first to show that Al-Qaeda “had tremendous reach and it can do sophisticated operations.”
“It showed Al-Qaeda that international terrorism could generate tremendous attention, and not just attention from its adversaries... it was a form of advertising in a way.”
The years since 9/11 have been shaped by the so-called “war on terror” and the proliferation of American military operations — notably in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
At the same time, Al-Qaeda went on to inspire affiliates around the globe, carrying out attacks across the Middle East as well as from Bali to Madrid, London and Paris.
Islamist insurgencies have wreaked havoc in the Sahel, Nigeria and Somalia, and — on several bloody occasions since the 1998 bombings — Kenya.
“Kenya itself was not primarily the target but of course we ended up with the majority of fatalities and consequences of that attack,” said Kimani.
“We continue to be on the frontlines of this struggle.”
Two years after Kenya sent troops across the border into Somalia to fight the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab — which had been carrying out attacks on its soil — the group killed 67 people in an attack on the Westgate shopping center in Nairobi in 2013.
Then in 2015, a Shabab attack on the Garissa University in eastern Kenya left 148 dead.
However, Kimani said counterterrorism efforts by Kenya had proved successful, confining Shabab attacks to remote areas in recent years as a result of new anti-terror legislation and improved co-ordination between different security forces.
He said efforts to build trust with communities where extremists hide out, and understanding how recruitment happens to nip it in the bud has also been key.
“The threat is still there, believe me, but 20 years later we have become much better at dealing with terrorism than we used to be,” he said.
“Globally terrorism has left a deep, deep social imprint. It has changed the way people think about security. Here in Kenya there are guards at malls and hotels and that is replicated in many parts of the world.”
Kimani said governments need to focus on improving livelihoods and providing basic services to erase the “pockets of desperation” that prove so fruitful for recruitment.
In recent years, attention has swung away from Al-Qaeda to its rival Daesh group which formed in 2013, captured swathes of territory and inspired numerous so-called “lone wolf” attacks from afar.
However, experts warn that while IS has since lost its territory and reach, Al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding.
“Their ideological ability to be grafted onto local grievances continues to make them a threat,” said Kimani.


Argument at Chicago hospital erupts into deadly shooting

Updated 15 min 26 sec ago
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Argument at Chicago hospital erupts into deadly shooting

  • The attacker, Juan Lopez, also died Monday but it was not clear if he took his own life or was killed by police

CHICAGO: An argument outside a Chicago hospital turned deadly when a man pulled out a gun and killed an emergency room doctor whom he knew, then ran into the hospital and fatally shot a pharmacy resident and a police officer, authorities said.
The attacker, Juan Lopez, also died Monday but it was not clear if he took his own life or was killed by police at Mercy Hospital on the city’s South Side, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
Chicago “lost a doctor, pharmaceutical assistant and a police officer, all going about their day, all doing what they loved,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, fighting back tears. “This just tears at the soul of our city. It is the face and a consequence of evil.”
Mercy Hospital said the staff who died were Tamara O’Neal, 38, an emergency room physician who never worked on Sunday because of her religious faith, and Dayna Less, 25, a first year pharmacy resident who had recently graduated from Purdue University.
The slain officer was identified as Samuel Jimenez, 28, who joined the department in February 2017 and had recently completed his probationary period, Johnson said. Police said he was married and the father of three children.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi described the shooting as a “domestic-related active shooter incident,” but provided no details about the relationship between the two.
Lopez, 32, and O’Neal had been arguing in the hospital parking lot. When a friend of O’Neal tried to intervene, “the offender lifted up his shirt and displayed a handgun,” Johnson said.
The friend ran into the hospital to call for help, and the gunfire began seconds later. After O’Neal fell to the ground, Lopez “stood over her and shot her three more times,” a witness named James Gray told reporters.
When officers arrived, the suspect fired at their squad car then ran inside the hospital. The police gave chase.
Inside the medical center, Lopez exchanged fire with officers and “shot a poor woman who just came off the elevator” before he was killed, Johnson said, referring to pharmaceutical assistant Less.
“We just don’t know how much damage he was prepared to do,” Johnson said, adding that Less “had nothing to do with nothing.”
Jennifer Eldridge was working in a hospital pharmacy when she heard three or four shots that seemed to come from outside. Within seconds, she barricaded the door, as called for in the building’s active shooter drills. Then there were six or seven more shots that sounded much closer, just outside the door.
“I could tell he was now inside the lobby. There was screaming,” she recalled.
The door jiggled, which Eldridge believed was the shooter trying to get in. Some 15 minutes later, she estimated, a SWAT team officer knocked at the door, came inside and led her away. She looked down and saw blood on the floor but no bodies.
“It may have been 15 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity,” she said.
Maria Correa hid under a desk, clutching her 4-month-old son, Angel, while the violence unfolded. Correa was in the waiting area of the hospital for her mother-in-law’s doctor appointment when a hospital employee told them to lock themselves in offices.
She lost track of how many shots she heard while under the desk “trying to protect her son” for 10 to 15 minutes.
“They were the worst minutes of our lives,” Correa said.
The death of Jimenez comes nine months after another member of the Chicago Police Department, Cmdr. Paul Bauer, was fatally shot while pursuing a suspect in the Loop business district.
Mercy has a rich history as the city’s first chartered hospital. It began in 1852, when the Sisters of Mercy religious group converted a rooming house. During the Civil War, the hospital treated both Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners of war, according to its website.