Kenyans say Marines ignored bombing victims Embassy gaurds initially turned away would-be rescuers

August 12, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NAIROBI, Kenya -- As the last bodies were being excavated yesterday from the rubble, resentment surfaced over the failure of the Marine detachment guarding the U.S. Embassy to help in the initial rescue effort.

Immediately after the bomb blast hit the embassy and nearby buildings in this city's business center Friday, the Marines set about securing the perimeter of the damaged mission, moving would-be Kenyan rescuers out of the area and allegedly ignoring the suffering around them.

"They only guarded their building," said Gideon Ndambuki, the Kenyan minister of state in charge of the crisis response.

"They didn't want anyone to go in. They didn't come on our side to do something.

"Even after securing that [building], they should have asked their people elsewhere, 'Do you need our help? Is there anything else we can do?' "

Aware of the public resentment, the U.S. Embassy issued a list of U.S. medical and rescue teams that have arrived here since the bombing, which, by yesterday's count, left 224 dead, seven critically injured, 244 hurt badly enough to be hospitalized, 4,572 treated and discharged, and two still missing.

"Military medical specialist and USAID rescue teams are working closely with Kenyan authorities and teams from other countries -- including Israel and France -- to support efforts assistingall those injured in the bombing," said the statement, which noted that U.S. doctors and rescuers had been flown in from facilities in Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Bill Barr, an embassy spokesman who was in the chancery when the bomb went off, said: "The Marines' job is to protect the embassy. Everybody in the embassy was in a state of shock, and, frankly, I think we still probably are.

"Kenyans who said that they wanted to rescue people were turned away by the Marines, probably less gentlemanly than they would have liked. Their reaction was, 'We want to help. You won't let us help.'

"It's a cultural clash. This is how Americans can be viewed when they're acting in American mode. That was the start of it.

"Then, there we are in trying to get our embassy people -- Kenyans and Americans -- out. We didn't have enough people to help in the other buildings affected by the blast. As more and more people arrived, we have been reaching out more and more to the Kenyans."

Barr said the resentment was not "a majority reaction," adding: "I understand there are sensitivities involved here. There are misunderstandings involved here. We are doing our best to clear up these misunderstandings."

Security is primary job

Maj. Gen. David F. Bice, director of Marine Corps staff in Washington, defended the actions of Marines at the embassy. "They did exactly what you'd expect, secure the area," he said. "That's their immediate interest."

Bice said the situation went from peacetime to war in a matter of moments. "You don't know who's a good guy, who's a bad guy.

"They're relying on their basic Marine skills -- security, security, security."

Lt. Col. Scott Campbell, a Marine Corps spokesman, said the embassy's normal detachment is six Marines; one was killed in the blast and another was injured.

Bice said the injured Marine left his hospital bed and returned to the embassy to help with security.

Kansas-educated Ndambuki, in an interview in his office, which has become the nerve center of the crisis response, said he was not laying a formal complaint.

"It's something that is being said in many quarters -- that when they [the Marines] came, they didn't do anything -- that's exactly what happened, and people are only saying what they saw.

"We know the embassy is their territory. They are expected to guard it to make sure it is secure. But they also should have gone to the other side and said, 'Hey guys, can we give you a hand?'

Tracking the bombers

Ndambuki said U.S. officials had not told him whether a security camera mounted at the corner of the building photographed the bombing. He said the FBI and local investigators were making "good progress" in tracking down the bombers.

He dismissed press criticism here that Kenya's own response to the catastrophe was less than impressive.

"The guards of chaos have taken control," said yesterday's edition of the tabloid Star, describing as "a national shame" that it took the arrival of an Israeli search and rescue team to establish order at the bomb scene.

Said Ndambuki: "Even before any foreigners came into this country to assist in the rescue, we had our army people there and they were working very well.

"It could be that some of the people who came in had a better knowledge of some of these things. This is a big thing to happen to us.

"But the Kenyan citizens were the ones taking people to hospital. Their cars were the ambulances. They did a remarkable job."

As darkness fell last night, three bodies were recovered from beneath the final pile of rubble that was once Ufundi House, where most of the victims were killed. The three were believed to be Kenyan employees at the embassy.

It left two local embassy workers unaccounted for. Twelve Americans were killed and dozens injured in the blast.

The air around the charred buildings was still acrid five days after the bomb, as heavy earth-moving equipment stood ready to assist rescue workers manhandling as much of the rubble as they safely could in a desperate effort to find the last bodies.

Arriving for the night shift under floodlights, Debby Herold, a nurse from Minnesota who has lived in Africa for 11 years, said: "You don't think people should stop until we find the last one.

"If it was your wife or child, that's what you would want."

As she and other volunteers with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency prepared to climb the rubble, Judy Astleford, Australian wife of the agency's director for Southern Sudan, said: "There are bodies coming out right now. Put on the latex gloves to handle the bodies."

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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