Agents Dig for Clues in Bombings
By Karl Vick and Stephen Buckley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 11, 1998; Page A1
NAIROBI, Aug. 10American investigators began an intensive hunt for clues today in the rubble left by terrorist bombs at two U.S. embassies in Africa, while the United States announced a reward of as much as $2 million for information leading to the capture of the bombers.
FBI agents combed the areas around the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, picking up bits of wreckage and searching for traces of the explosives used in what U.S. officials have described as coordinated attacks. As the search for more bodies continued tonight, the death toll in the two incidents stood at 202 -- 192 in Nairobi, including 12 Americans, and 10 in Dar es Salaam. [The Associated Press reported that the death toll hit 230 as of Tuesday].
In Dar es Salaam, where a bomb hidden in a water delivery truck exploded on the grounds of the embassy almost simultaneously with the Nairobi blast, local authorities detained about a dozen men in connection with their investigation.
U.S. officials said the detainees were all of Iraqi or Sudanese extraction and described them not as suspects, but as people who might lead police to suspects. In Washington, Susan E. Rice, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, cautioned: "Don't attach too much importance to it."
At the same time, however, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright sought to uncover more suspects by announcing the $2 million reward in a speech to colleagues of the slain Americans.
At Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport this afternoon, the bodies of 11 of the 12 Americans killed at the embassy there were carried onto an Air Force transport jet for the journey home. Marines in camouflage fatigues carried the silver caskets one by one up the ramp of a C-141 jet painted a sullen gray.
The U.S. ambassador to Nairobi, Prudence Bushnell, stood by with a bandaged hand over her heart and tears glistening on cheeks cut by flying glass. She had been at a meeting in the 22-story Cooperative Bank Building, two doors from the embassy, when the massive bomb exploded.
In the latest effort to reduce the risk to State Department employees working abroad, the Cairo office of the U.S. Agency for International Development was closed. Employees were given time off or moved into the more secure U.S. Embassy building. Over the weekend, the American Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan -- where resident diplomatic staff members were withdrawn in 1996 -- was ordered shuttered.
Meanwhile, concerns about continuing hazards at the blast site in Nairobi were in evidence today. The area around the Cooperative Bank Building was cleared briefly when debris began falling from it and observers reported that the 17th floor appeared to show signs of buckling.
The alert was short-lived, however, and an Israeli search and rescue team picking through the rubble of the five-story Ufundi Cooperative Building -- which was flattened by the bomb that detonated behind the embassy -- continued its work. On a cool day, unusually bright for winter in Nairobi, a mild breeze carried the sweetish odor of decay onto Hailie Selassie Avenue, which runs alongside the embassy.
Recovery workers digging through the rubble of Ufundi House lifted corpse after corpse into body bags and laid them on stretchers, which were lowered to a Red Cross ambulance below on the scoop of a backhoe.
"Too many bodies," sighed physician Nahun Nesher after climbing down from the pile of rubble, which had once been a secretarial college and office building. "We found secretaries leaning on their desks when this happened. It was very difficult to take them out because they were in the sitting position and the roof was pressing them down on the floor."
The Israelis insisted they had not given up hope of finding a woman whose voice they last detected in the rubble at 3 p.m. Sunday. The woman, who is being called Rose, had been trapped near Samuel Nganga, the last person pulled out alive, on Saturday night. "Who knows?" Nesher said. "We have sent the [sniffer] dogs inside, and there was no sign of life."
Just inside a damaged corner of the embassy, urban rescue crews from Fairfax County continued the search for the bodies of nine Kenyans believed to have been there at the time of the blast. The firefighters were visible through the blasted-out windows of the structure.
While FBI officials made clear that the search for survivors and the recovery of the dead would take precedence over the gathering of evidence until all the missing are accounted for, investigators were already at work around the fringes of the site today.
Beside the embassy, on the matted grass of Aga Khan Walk, a Caterpillar front-end loader scooped up bucket after bucketful of pulverized concrete, bloodied papers and battered furnishings from the offices in Ufundi House. A few feet away, a bulldozer noisily pushed away the blackened frames of vehicles that no longer held the interest of the FBI, whose efforts seemed to be concentrated on the search for the vehicle that carried the massive bomb that exploded behind the embassy.
That vehicle was a small pickup truck, military and diplomatic sources said today. "It seemed to be small enough to look like a car," one source said. Most witnesses described it as yellow, another source said, reinforcing published accounts.
A U.S. Embassy source has said the truck at first tried to gain access to the embassy grounds through the main vehicle entrance and was directed by guards to the rear, where its occupants killed several guards with a grenade before triggering their lethal cargo.
The embassy perimeter bristled with heavily armed Marines, one of whom stood guard in an upper-story window beside a machine gun pointed toward the shattered office fronts across the way. On the street below, Kenyans gathered to see what had happened to their capital city.
"This capital looks like a Western city with its high-rise buildings, but that's just a facade," said Nina Galbe, a Red Cross spokeswoman who lives in Nairobi. "Actually, this country is desperately poor."
Per capita income of $280 a year is one measure of that poverty. Another, Galbe said, is the likely fate of the 40 people whose bodies still lie in morgues around Nairobi, so badly mangled they cannot be recognized by loved ones.
In the United States, forensic experts would refer to dental records, "but who in this country can afford a dentist?" Galbe said. "Unless they have special birthmarks their family would recognize, they might never be identified."
Correspondent T. R. Reid in Dar es Salaam contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company