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

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.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.