Clinton vows to find and punish bombers Medical teams, FBI, Marine security unit deploy to 2 capitals

E. Africa was thought safe

Egyptian Islamic Jihad recently issued threat over extradition

August 08, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON WIRE REPORTS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has vowed to find out who was responsible for yesterday's twin bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and hold them to account for the 81 known deaths and 1,700 injuries.

"We will use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice no matter what or how long it takes," he said. Eight Americans, including a child, were reported among the dead.

Washington quickly dispatched medical teams and investigators to the nations' capitals, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, where the midmorning explosions occurred five minutes apart.

In addition to FBI investigators and explosives experts, a military security unit of at least 40 Marines, the Fleet Anti-terrorist Security Team, was being dispatched.

National Security Council spokesman P. J. Crowley said, "We have already launched our investigation." He added that the United States was working to identify the Americans killed in Nairobi and notify families.

The administration immediately tightened security at embassies and military installations around the world. And local governments helped in the effort. The State Department warned Americans against traveling to either country.

Officials said the bombings bore the signs of Middle Eastern terrorism and might have been the work of either Egyptian Islamic Jihad or of the shadowy Saudi financier, Osama bin Laden.

Investigators had several unusual elements to work with:

From what U.S. officials could recollect, this was "the first apparently coordinated attacks on U.S. sites in separate countries," according to Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering, who said the State Department receives 30,000 threats a year.

The bombs were very large and went off without warning, indicating that the attackers were working for maximum damage instead of maximum disruption. And they occurred in a part of the world -- East Africa -- where this kind of terrorism is considered unlikely.

Terrorist groups suspected

The bombings "seemed to have the earmark of some Middle East terrorist groups," said an official aware of early information obtained by the U.S. government. The official said it was unlikely that the bombs were planted by East African groups.

The official said that while no suspects had been ruled out, state sponsorship was not considered as likely as an attack by a terrorist group.

Egyptian Islamic Jihad recently issued a threat against U.S. interests, warning it would retaliate against what it said was Washington's help in extraditing three Egyptian militants to Cairo from Albania.

"We inform the Americans of preparations for a response which we hope they read with care, because we will write it, with God's help, in a language they will understand," the Jihad statement said, without specifying any action.

The State Department's latest report on international terrorism calls the Jihad an Islamic extremist group, active since the late 1970s, that specializes in armed attacks against high-level Egyptian government officials.

It claimed responsibility for attempted assassinations of the Egyptian prime minister and interior minister in 1993.

Saudi said to aid attacks

Osama bin Laden, a Saudi with a personal fortune estimated as high as $250 million, is reputed to have bankrolled terrorist activities for years, including those of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and praised the still-unsolved bombing of the Khobar Towers U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

Bin Laden, said one U.S. official, "has tentacles throughout much of Africa."

In June, he was reported by ABC News to be living in a cave atop a mountain range in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship in 1994.

He claimed responsibility for trying to bomb U.S. soldiers in Yemen in 1992 and for attacks on Americans in Somalia in 1993.

According to the State Department, "reports suggest he aided the Egyptian al-Gama at al-Islamiyya in its assassination attempt on Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak in Ethiopia in 1995."

Egyptian al-Gama, which has targeted Western tourists, is also among the suspects in yesterday's attacks, officials said, but lower on the list than the other two. Another is Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization backed by Iran.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, a number of terrorism experts and news organizations, including this newspaper, incorrectly speculated that Mideastern terrorist groups were responsible.

Mindful of that, the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked American journalists to exercise restraint in reporting on the bombings.

"No hard evidence has yet surfaced as to the identity of the perpetrators," said executive director Nihad Awad.

U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, said they were identifying the groups they considered the most likely suspects in full awareness of the mistakes made in the Oklahoma City case, indicating they believe their indications were solidly based.

Embassies thought safe

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