149 Confirmed Dead in Embassy Blasts
By Karl Vick
Professional excavation crews were only beginning their work in the wreckage of the Ufundi Cooperative Building, which was pancaked by the blast apparently intended for the embassy next door. The number of confirmed dead here rose to 140, with an official list of injured that reached 4,257.
The Kenya death toll included 12 U.S. citizens, 11 of whom have been identified, and 14 Kenyan embassy employees. Five American and 109 Kenyan embassy employees were listed as missing.
Out of the chaos emerged conflicting accounts of the explosion. Many witnesses agreed that they had heard a smaller explosion before the main blast, perhaps an exploding grenade. Others said they heard gunfire in the minutes before the bombing.
At the U.S. Embassy 450 miles south in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, meanwhile, where a truck bomb detonated within minutes of the Nairobi explosion, the search for survivors was called off with nine confirmed dead and around 70 wounded. Most of the dead, all Tanzanians, had been staffing the guard post at the embassy entrance near where the bomb exploded, according to investigators. The bomb was apparently attached to an embassy-owned truck.
Among them was an Israeli urban rescue team that arrived from Tel Aviv bearing hydraulic equipment, sensitive listening devices, stretchers and dogs trained to find corpses.
"We are going to work through the night," said Lt. Col. Regev Avi.
The first efforts were concentrated on the main entrance of Ufundi House, as the office building is generally called, a proscenium of sagging concrete braced by a dozen steel rods. Inside, illuminated by spotlights, an Israeli rescue worker was driving a chisel into a concrete wall. Someone had heard a voice behind it, in the vicinity of the elevator shaft. It was a man's voice, and he said there was another person alive behind him.
Five hours later, the man -- identified by news agencies as Gatili Nganga, a middle-aged businessman -- was carried out of the flattened building and rushed to a Nairobi hospital already full to bursting with wounded. The man, who had been communicating with rescue workers since 4 p.m. Friday, had severe injuries to his legs and his head, said Col. Isaac Ashkenazi, an Israeli doctor who went into the building to help bring the victim to safety. Ashkenazi said the man was conscious but in shock.
The physician said the victim was "in the middle of the building," so rescuers "had to go through a lot of tunnels, a lot of stones, a lot of wood. You had to go through with your body like a snake."
By late evening, rescuers had not yet reached the person behind Nganga.
U.S. officials in Africa offered no theories about who had caused the closely coordinated attacks. They would not comment on a report in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat, which received a call late Friday from a previously unknown Islamic group claiming that "elements of the organization carried out the two operations simultaneously." Today, another Islamic group, never before heard of, claimed responsibility.
A team of 60 U.S. investigators was not due to arrive in the Kenyan capital until Sunday. Among the international military and humanitarian agencies that rushed to downtown Nairobi, however, were British army troops experienced in IRA bombings in Northern Ireland.
"It was a very well made bomb. At a guess I'd say between 400 and 500 pounds," said Capt. Rhyl Jones, who wore the epaulets of the Royal Engineers. "Maybe commercial explosives, and I would imagine it was built somewhere else and brought in."
Jones said he based his opinion on the massive scale of the devastation and the absence of reports of the kind of large truck used to pack the homemade fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb in Oklahoma City. "I believe it was a small vehicle, and look at the damage it did," he said, gesturing at the shattered buildings.
A 33-member medical assessment team, 19-member medical evacuation team and 21-member military squad arrived today from the United States. They were followed by 50 Marines for supplementary security.
The Nairobi explosion occurred at about 10:40 a.m. Friday in a parking lot adjacent to the embassy, located at one of the city's busiest intersections. Witnesses recalled two explosions, perhaps 10 seconds apart.
The first explosion, which one witness described as "the mild one," was variously taken for construction noise, a gunshot and a grenade blast.
The second explosion blew out windows a mile and a half away. Workers in high-rises on the other side of downtown felt their buildings rise and fall. Ufundi House, the office building that had its back to the parking lot, fell in on itself. Officials said the number of people inside was not known.
"I had just gotten up, and the next thing I knew I was sitting with my hands covering my head," said U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell, who was on the 18th floor of a bank building on another side of the parking lot.
Bushnell, who had been meeting with the Kenyan trade minister about an upcoming visit of U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley, said she feared the building was about to collapse. She made her way down the crowded, smoky stairwells clinging to banisters covered with blood.
"Everyone was taking care of one another. Everyone was bleeding," Bushnell said.
When she reached Haile Selassie Avenue, the ambassador was among those who noticed a vehicle burning beside the bank building. In the chaos, Bushnell said, she did not register whether the wreckage resembled a car or a small truck. Other witnesses offered conflicting descriptions.
An embassy spokesman said he could offer no details regarding a potentially crucial piece of evidence. The parking lot where the explosion occurred was under surveillance by a video camera, which was monitored inside the embassy by a Marine guard.
The spokesman said he did not know what the camera recorded, what the Marine guard noticed or even whether the evidence survived the blast. But the video may contribute concrete answers to the mixture of sketchy reports and rumored scenarios swirling about the bombing sight.
Speculation was most intense about the first of the blasts.
If the smaller explosion was a grenade, it presumably was thrown at the hired Kenyan security guards stationed at the embassy's rear parking lot.
"We were told that, at first, they threw the grenade, and then they threw everything else," said Noah Mwangala, a guard with United International Investigative Service, the private firm hired to supplement military security at the embassy.
There were also unconfirmed reports of gunfire before the explosion. Mary Robinson, an embassy administrative attache, told reporters in Pretoria, South Africa, where she was being treated for a broken hand and other wounds, that she heard what she took for gunshots before the blast.
At a news conference, Ambassador Bushnell parried questions about the resources pouring into the severely damaged American Embassy as opposed to the utterly destroyed Kenyan building beside it.
Complaints were raised that workers chucking wreckage out of embassy windows did not heed requests for silence necessary to hear the cries of those buried under the rubble next door. One man complained that a trapped victim had died while Americans considered a request for the drill that might have freed him.
The sense of apartness was heightened by the black screen erected around the embassy perimeter, which Bushnell said was necessary to contain evidence. As for the noise from workers, she said, "Your behavior is not up to Emily Post after 24 hours of pulling bodies out."
The ambassador also defended the embassy's security measures. The Nairobi embassy was not among those that had received a full security upgrade in recent years. Its primary vulnerability was its location -- at the intersection of two busy streets in the heart of downtown -- which left it open to a car or truck bomb.
But Bushnell said security had been her top priority, and the embassy's status was last reviewed two months ago in what Bushnell said was a routine check not occasioned by a specific threat.
"Did we do everything we possibly could to make that building safe?" she asked. "You bet we did."
Bushnell quoted an employee at the hospital she visited this morning as saying the injured arrived "in floods" on Friday. Most of the 4,000 injured were "walking wounded" with lacerations who were treated and released.
Among these was the ambassador, who arrived at the news conference this afternoon with scratches on her cheek and stitches in her bottom lip.
"Yesterday morning, at about 10:40, literally thousands of people came face to face with evil," she began. "The result is broken hearts, shattered lives, shock, dismay, anger and, most of all, incredible sorrow."
Correspondent Stephen Buckley contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company