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9th August 1998

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Major bomb blast brings carnage to Nairobi streets

NAIROBI, Saturday (Reuters) - First a loud bang and then a thick plume of smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air. After a moment of silence, glass and masonry rained down from the sky.

This was the scene in Nairobi on Friday as a huge car bomb aimed at the United States embassy ripped through the morning rush hour. Two buildings caught the full force of the blast the U.S Embassy and, behind it, Ufundi Co-op House, which contains a secretarial college and offices. Ufundi House collapsed, floor by floor, crushing its occupants. The embassy's reinforced, five-storey structure survived but its rear-facing rooms were reduced to a series of blackened shells. Minutes later office workers, cut by glass were streaming away from the centre of the blast and a trail of blood led back to the U.S. embassy in down town Nairobi.

Kenyans are pretty thick-skinned when it comes to riots and violent crime. Politics and civil disturbance go hand in hand, but the shock visible on the faces of office workers staggering away from the blast signalled violence of a different order. The injured were among the lucky ones. Six buses, gutted by the blast, had ground to a halt on Haile Selassie Avenue. The driver of one had been thrown, dead,halfway through his shattered window.

At the rear of the U.S. embassy rescue workers started to stack the remains of around 15 people who had caught the full force of the explosion. One charred and blackened body looked more like a series of logs removed from a fire than a middle-aged female. Some lacked faces, or limbs, or clothes. Others seemed to have swollen beyond their usual proportion. The bodies were laid onto scraps of sheeting and then stacked haphazardly onto the backs of pick-up trucks and carted away. "I have seen eight dead white people being pulled out of theU.S. embassy and 25 other corpses (from Ufundi House)," said Amir Hassam, a rescue worker with the Aga Khan Social Welfare Board, who said he arrived on the scene almost immediately. Eda Rubia, a management consultant was walking near the embassy when the blast happened. "I heard a loud bang then the whole place was shaking and within a split second glass was falling on my head, Rubia said. Messenger Simon Tafei added: "It was strange...a big bang and then I was lying on the floor. All around me were people, bleeding.

The rescue effort began within minutes. As U.S. embassy personnel pulled out casualties and tried to compile a list of their missing, hundreds of volunteers swarmed over Ufundi House. Mounted police, riot police, firemen in heat-protective silver suits, helicopters, ambulances, the Red Cross, the Kenya Wildlife Service, aid agencies and private businessmen and above all passers-by threw themselves into the effort. And, at least in the early hours, there was a survivor for every corpse pulled from the rubble.

One U.S. marine carried the body of an African employee,blood pouring from her, out of the embassy basement. Minutes later a cheer went up as an African man was pulled from a hole in the fourth floor of Ufundi House. He was strapped to a stretcher and manhandled down two long ladders to a waiting ambulance and still had the strength to raise his head and shout. "God is great. God is great," he yelled, his arms held out in a gesture of victory after having been trapped for more than three hours. But the early successes of the rescue effort could not dispel the grim fact that no survivors were being pulled from the lower floors of Ufundi House. Blood, glass, masonry and clothes were scattered over awide area by the blast. In a clothes shop several hundred yards (metres) away a series of mannequins, their naked bodies splattered with human blood, lay in a pile of glass.

Rescuers dig for survivors

NAIROBI, Saturday (CNN) Rescue workers used backhoes and bare hands Saturday to free people trapped under mangled steel and concrete shattered in car bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

At least 61 people, including eight Americans, died in the blast, which heavily damaged the embassy building and incinerated two passing buses. Scores of people were missing, and more than 1,400 were injured.

In neighboring Tanzania, an almost simultaneous blast at the American embassy in Dar es Salaam killed at least nine people and injured 57. No Americans were reported killed there, but the embassy building, in a residential area of the capital, was heavily damaged. The U.S. State Department reported that six Americans were still missing in Nairobi and 14 were hospitalized. U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell was slightly injured.

The Americans were believed to be part of the U.S. diplomatic delegation in Kenya, not private citizens visiting the country.

Wading through the wreckage

As dawn broke in Nairobi Saturday, rescuers could hear at least three people calling out from inside a debris-choked elevator shaft, plus a fourth person trapped nearby.

"It is horrific to hear moaning, sighs and whimpers from under the rubble when we can do so little to reach victims quickly," Red Cross spokeswoman Nina Galbe said.

Working through the night beneath floodlights, rescuers in both capitals used pick axes, shovels and ropes to clear rubble. After an hour-long effort in Nairobi, one person was pulled alive from the wreckage to cheers from the gathered crowd. But another rescue attempt ended tragically. Kenyan Sgt. David Kambi, an army engineer, said he struggled for four hours to free a 40-year-old man named Gitau whose chest was weighed down by a slab of concrete."I told him, 'Gitau we're going to help you,' " Kambi said. He pleaded for help twice, then died, the officer said. US vows to track down those responsible

U.S. officials say that the attacks, which came without warning, appear to be a co-ordinated terrorist assault, and they are vowing to track down and punish those responsible. "We will be relentless and persevering," said U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.

"[The investigation] will involve all the forces we can bring to bear on it."

U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world were put on heightened alert. No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

While U.S. officials are declining to say who they think might be responsible, they have indicated that the parties are likely from outside of the two East African countries, with which the United States has generally good relations.

While Kenya has been experiencing some internal strife in recent years, political violence is virtually unheard of in Tanzania, among the most stable of African countries.

Police seen detaining Arabic-speaking man

Police in Nairobi were seen taking an Arabic-speaking man into custody, but authorities would not comment on his connection, if any, to the blast. An Egyptian militant group, Islamic Jihad, a successor to the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, vowed last week to strike American interests after some of its members were arrested in Albania and handed over to Egypt, according to a report Thursday in Al-Hayat, an Arabic-language newspaper in London.

The Egyptian Islamic Jihad group is believed to have links to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi dissident living in Afghanistan, who the U.S. State Department considers the prime suspect in the 1995 car bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed five Americans and the June 1996 blast at a military housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

U.S.President Bill Clinton denounced the attacks as "abhorrent" and "inhuman," and he promised to bring the perpetrators to justice "no matter what or how long it takes." He planned to devote his weekly radio address Saturday to the U.S. response to the attacks.

U.S. experts to probe blasts

NAIROBI, Saturday (Reuters) - U.S. medical and forensic experts were due in the Kenyan capital on Saturday as Washington launched an urgent investigation into deadly car bomb attacks on two of its East African embassies.

Up to 80 people were killed including eight U.S. citizens and over 1,200 injured in the blasts on the missions in Kenya and Tanzania. Rescuers were still trying to pull people from the rubble in Nairobi.

President Bill Clinton has condemned the attacks as "abhorrent" and vowed to do everything in his power to bring the perpetrators to justice. A U.S. Air Force C-141 transport plane from Germany was due in Nairobi around 0600 GMT with medical supplies and personnel to treat victims of the attack, according to embassy spokesman Chris Sharf. U.S. personnel were also expected to land in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, on Saturday to start an inquiry, he said.

Nairobi hospitals struggle with bomb wounded

NAIROBI, Saturday (Reuters) - Screaming in pain and bleeding profusely from a head wound, a man is carried by stretcher into the emergency unit of a Nairobi hospital.

He was among the hundreds of casualties of a huge bomb blast which ripped through a five-storey office building in the centre of the Kenyan capital on Friday morning.

Scores of others in blood-soaked clothes, their faces raked with lacerations, sat dazed in hospital lobbies waiting their turn for treatment amid the chaos.

In corridors, in reception areas and in the open air, nurses and volunteers stitched and bandaged the wounded.

Nearly 40 people have been confirmed killed and more than 1,000 injured in the explosion. Police fear the death toll will exceed 80 as more bodies are found in the rubble of Ufundi house, which bore the brunt of the blast.

Outside Nairobi Hospital, Philip Bor sat with dressings on his head and chest waiting to hear news of his wife.

"I heard the blast and the windows caved in, I was thrown on the ground, I did not know what had happened," he said.

Bor was at work just a few hundred metres (yards) away from the explosion His wife worked in Ufundi house, which houses a number of small offices and a secretarial college and is next door to the U.S. embassy.

"I made my way down to the street. I wanted to go and check for my wife, but they dragged me away and put me in a vehicle and brought me here," he said.

A loudspeaker was set up in front of the hundreds of anxious relatives outside the hospital and a nurse carefully read out the names of more than 200 injured. More that 500 of the casualties were taken to Nairobi's main Kenyatta National Hospital which made an urgent appeal for blood donors and volunteer medical workers.

Dozens of general practioners, retired nurses and foreign aid workers converged on the hospital to help, medical staff said.

Kenya President Daniel Arap Moi arrived at the hospital in the afternoon to visit some of the injured.

"The response has been fantastic," Julius Meme, Kenya's director of Medical Services, told Reuters. "People have been donating blood, blankets, everything." The bomb went off at 10:35 a.m. (0735 GMT), causing extensive damage to the nearby U.S. embassy. Ten minutes later another bomb exploded close to the U.S. embassy in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam.

Victims of the Nairobi bomb said they heard a small explosion before the main blast.

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