Tanzania Embassy's Security Low-Key
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 9, 1998; Page A24
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Aug. 8The terrorist bomb that killed nine people at the U.S. Embassy here Friday was a fairly sophisticated device designed to take advantage of the facility's relatively low-key security arrangements, according to police statements and other local reports.
With a team of FBI and military bomb experts due to arrive here in the Tanzanian capital on Sunday, U.S. officials had nothing to say about the explosion, which went off Friday morning within minutes of a similar bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. That bombing killed at least 140 people.
Tanzanian officials, however, said the Dar es Salaam bomb evidently was planted on an embassy-owned truck. The truck was in front of the embassy and just a few feet away from the building when the bomb was ignited -- possibly by remote control, or by a booby-trap mechanism designed to explode if it was discovered.
Six bombing victims were declared dead on Friday, and three more died in the hospital today. All of the dead were Tanzanian nationals, employees of the embassy or of a security company that provided guard services at the gate. About 70 people were injured, including at least one American who reportedly was taken to London for treatment.
Unlike U.S. facilities in parts of the world considered more dangerous, the embassy in this relatively peaceful capital stands just a few feet from public roads and was protected by a small metal-and-concrete fence. Tanzania, a multi-party democracy, has had good relations with the United States in recent years.
Today, though, the State Department issued a warning that Americans here should be on guard. "American citizens in Tanzania are urged to limit travel within the country and to exercise caution," the statement said.
Shortly after the bombing, President Clinton called Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa to thank him for his government's quick response to the blast.
Tanzania, a nation of 30 million, has a per-capita income around $600, according to the United Nations, meaning it is poorer than most African countries. The capital, Dar es Salaam -- the name means "Haven of Peace" -- is a crowded, dusty city of badly rutted streets and creaking infrastructure.
The U.S. Embassy, though, stands about three miles outside the city center along a curving shore of the Indian Ocean known as Oyster Bay -- a wealthy residential neighborhood where the large white homes are surrounded by concrete and barbed-wire fences to keep out thieves.
Many of the American employees of the embassy live in a compound of homes near the building. As is common in the Third World, the embassy provides some of the elements of daily life that are not dependably provided by the host country. One of these is clean water.
The embassy owned a truck and a water tank, which brought regular water deliveries to compound residents. This was the truck that was blown up by the powerful bomb on Friday.
Various theories here hold that terrorists somehow managed to plant their bomb on the embassy water truck. When the driver finished his deliveries Friday morning, he drove the truck back to the embassy building on Laibon Road. As a familiar employee, he was permitted to drive through a security gate about 20 yards down the street from the building.
Judging from a large crater blasted into the street, the truck must have been just a few feet from the embassy when the bomb went off.
One idea here was that it was triggered by remote control, suggesting that the terrorists had it in sight at the time. Another line of speculation was that guards discovered the bomb on the truck, but it exploded when they moved it.
The truck driver and the guards nearby all were killed in the blast. One wing of the gleaming white embassy building was turned into a blackened, twisted wreck. Survivors of the explosion dropped from windows and struggled down burning staircases to flee the destruction.
Cars parked along Laibon Road were badly damaged, with their roofs crushed downward and windows blown out. The home of the British high commissioner, two blocks away, had broken windows from the blast and considerable damage from raining debris.
Bariuany Luhanga, an electric company official who lives across the street from the embassy, said that his office building, three miles away, was badly shaken by the blast. Rushing outside to see what had happened, Luhanga saw a column of black smoke rising from the direction of his house.
He raced home and found "total destruction" on the narrow street, with bloodied embassy workers walking down the street in a daze. His own house, about 50 yards from the explosion, was so badly battered, Luhanga said today, that "everything was on the floor, and the place is not livable."
Luhanga said his wife and three children were in the house when the bomb went off. All were hospitalized, for cuts and shock, but they were released today in good condition, he said.
A major street linking downtown Dar es Salaam with the Oyster Bay region, Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road, runs past the back lawn of the U.S. Embassy. Several cars on the road were hit by flying debris, and a multi-car pileup ensued. Police said that a truck with Tanzanian army personnel was passing near the embassy when the bomb went off, and the soldiers raced to the scene to provide assistance.
Tanzania has been one of the more peaceful countries in East Africa and has had little experience with terrorism or factional warfare. Accordingly, the government here immediately suggested that the bombing was not carried out by Tanzanians.
"We believe this is the work of foreign-hired mercenaries," Prime Minister Frederick Tulway Sumaye told the National Assembly on Friday.
"I assure the American friends that Tanzania values the existing good relations between the two nations," Sumaye went on. He said the government here would cooperate fully with American experts investigating the bomb.
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