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  Bomb Vehicle Was Turned Away

By Stephen Buckley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 10, 1998; Page A01

NAIROBI, Aug. 9—The vehicle that apparently contained the bomb that exploded at the U.S. Embassy here Friday morning was driven first to the main entrance of the compound, but guards refused to let it pass and sent it to the rear of the building, an embassy official said today.

At that rear gate, normally used for deliveries, occupants of the vehicle used at least one hand grenade to kill security guards there, according to the official, who is familiar with the investigation into the bombing and spoke on condition that he not be named. Only after the grenade attack did the main bomb explode, the official said.

The death toll attributed to that bomb and another that detonated almost simultaneously outside the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, rose today to 209. Twelve Americans, including Consul General Julian Bartley Sr., died in the Nairobi blast; no Americans were killed in Dar es Salaam. More than 4,800 people were injured in the two incidents, which officials have described as terrorist bombings.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who pleaded today for Americans to be patient as investigators seek to learn the identity of the bombers, suggested the U.S. government would retaliate against them or their patrons if necessary.

Rescue efforts continued in Nairobi today as workers searched the rubble of the Ufundi Cooperative Building, a four-story structure adjacent to the embassy that was collapsed by the blast, but no additional survivors were found. However, rescuers did help a woman and her son out of another severely damaged high-rise next to the Ufundi building; both were shaken but apparently unharmed, witnesses said.

The high-level embassy official said the Nairobi attack began when the vehicle believed to have contained the bomb -- it remains unclear whether it was a car or a pickup truck -- was driven up to the main gate of the diplomatic compound, which opens into a parking lot in front of the embassy building.

The embassy, in downtown Nairobi, is situated at the intersection of two major streets. It is surrounded by thick, three-foot-high posts to prevent vehicles from driving onto the sidewalk in front of the building. A metal drop-down gate blocks the entrance to the parking lot beside the front entrance.

Kenyan guards at the front gate are instructed to admit only vehicles that bear diplomatic license plates or that they recognize, so they directed the vehicle to the rear entrance of the embassy, the official said..

"They were trying to screen it," the official said. "They saved people's lives by sending it around back. . . . If they hadn't done that, I don't think I would be around today talking to you."

The vehicle was then driven to the delivery entrance in the rear, where the bomb exploded. Experts said it contained as much as 600 pounds of explosives. Moments before the blast, several Kenyan guards at the rear entrance apparently were killed by at least one hand grenade, the official said.

The probe into the two explosions is just beginning, officials said, as about 40 to 50 FBI investigators arrived in Nairobi today to look for and interpret clues to who was behind the attack.

Meanwhile, in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, a quiet residential street in the Oyster Bay neighborhood was converted into a military stronghold as scores of U.S. Marines in green fatigues barricaded the street outside the heavily damaged embassy building.

As was the case in Nairobi, Pentagon and FBI officials arrived in Dar es Salaam today to begin a detailed investigation. Embassy officials said about 100 Americans had arrived in the wake of the bombing, more than doubling the normal U.S. government presence in Tanzania.

Embassy officials in Dar es Salaam would not say whether a security camera atop the four-story building captured Friday morning's explosion on videotape. The camera appears to be pointed directly at the spot where the bomb went off -- a spot now marked by a manhole-sized crater in the asphalt road just outside the embassy.

U.S. officials said the security camera's image is not always fed to a videotape recorder -- that sometimes guards simply watch what it captures on a TV screen.

If the current speculation in Dar es Salaam is correct, the bomb was hidden on an embassy-owned water truck and exploded moments after an embassy-employed driver pulled the truck through the front gate of the embassy. A videotape of the incident, if it exists, might suggest how the bomb was constructed.

Initial reports from Dar es Salaam said that nine people had died in the bombing there, but officials at Muhimbili Medical Center said today that the death toll may be 10. Doctors trying to reconstruct the shattered bodies of the dead have concluded that a corpse previously counted as one person may be two, officials said.

By far the greater destruction occurred in the Nairobi blast, and the most heavily damaged building was Ufundi House, which pancaked into a heap of rubble.

Rescue teams continued today to try to save victims trapped in the debris. At about 6:30 this evening, rescue workers said it had been 10 hours since they heard from a woman they had been trying to rescue since about 10 p.m. Saturday.

When they last heard from her, she was complaining about noise from rescue workers' tools. "That meant we were getting close," said Capt. Danny Kaplan of the Israeli Defense Forces, which is coordinating rescue efforts.

Search crews spent most of the day slowly extricating bodies. Members of the Israeli rescue team, using trained dogs -- a German shepherd and a Rottweiler -- discovered a woman and her son on the 21st floor of the Cooperative Bank tower today, two buildings away from the U.S. Embassy.

The pair walked down the stairs and out of the building, accompanied by their rescuers, witnesses said. They stood before a pile of burned-out cars, left grotesquely mangled and charred by Friday's explosion.

The woman waved to bystanders outside the building but appeared tired, witnesses said. The boy, thought to be about 12 or 13 and wearing a green sweater over a light blue shirt, appeared to collapse once placed inside an ambulance. Both were taken to a hospital.

Kenyan authorities said that the woman's husband is the Cooperative Bank building's chief caretaker and that they live in an apartment in the high-rise. The woman, said to be in her late forties or early fifties, escaped from the building after the explosion but immediately realized that her son was missing. She apparently returned to the building late Friday or early Saturday to search for him.

While the hunt for survivors continued, thousands of Kenyans crowded Nairobi hospitals and the city mortuary to search for relatives missing since the explosion.

Ten critically injured Americans, along with five Kenyans, were flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany today to receive treatment at the U.S. military hospital there.

At Kenyatta National Hospital here, chief administrator Augustine K. Muita said all but 176 of the approximately 1,500 victims brought for treatment Friday have been released. He said the hospital was receiving needed supplies -- from mattresses and gauze to clean water and intravenous fluids -- and that Israel and France also had lent 20 doctors and other medical personnel to the hospital.

This afternoon, George Kimani stood before a board listing patients the hospital had admitted since Friday. He said he had been to 10 health facilities in the city searching for his niece, 26.

"This is the third time we've been back here," he said. "I'm here just in case they have mistaken the name. . . . I have been to the mortuary. If I don't find her here this time, I'll have to go back there."

Officials at the city mortuary said relatives had identified most of the scores of bodies filling the facility. Only about a dozen bodies -- one with glass embedded in its head, others with charred faces, still others with faces literally blown apart -- remained unidentified late today.

Correspondent T. R. Reid in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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