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
0

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.


Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019
0

Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.
The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.
Hundreds of protesters sat on and along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area.
Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.
Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.
After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.
The night before, as protesters reached the march’s end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.
Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.
The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down.
Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.
In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.”
“The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said.
Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists.
“This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!” the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement.
Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.
“It doesn’t really matter because the next one would be just as evil,” said Kayley Fung, 27.
Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.
After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.
She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators.
Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.
So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.
Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.