Guard at Kenya embassy spots suspect in pile of FBI photos His boss was warned of a bomb threat two weeks ago

August 14, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A security guard at the U.S. Embassy, who was two steps away from one of the bombers here Friday, said yesterday he had picked out a suspect in an FBI photo lineup.

And the boss of the security firm employing him revealed that two weeks ago embassy staff warned him of a bomb threat against the building, causing him to increase the guards there.

Benson Okuku Bwaku said he recognized the picture of a dark skinned man, about 30 years old, slightly built, with a long nose, neck-length black hair, long sideburns, a mustache and light beard. The photo was among several FBI agents showed him earlier this week.

The photograph, he said, looked like the attacker who leapt from the pickup truck that was believed to be carrying the bomb to the embassy. The man ordered Bwaku to open the barricade he was manning which blocked entry to the mission's basement.

Bwaku, whose actions were credited by his boss with having helped save the embassy from far greater destruction, told how he stopped the man and how he survived the bombing.

Asked what happened to the man, he said, "I don't think that guy managed to escape from there. I'm not sure, but I don't think so."

When the FBI interviewed him Monday and Tuesday, Bwaku said, "I was able to check one of the pictures and said it looked like him, the blackness, the falling hair, the nose, the moustache. I was able to do that. They were able to identify that man, whom I saw there."

Peter Mbuvi, the Kenyan deputy police commissioner, said yesterday that at least five suspects had been detained for questioning, including one man pointed out to police by American officials immediately after the blast.

The explosion left 247 dead, including 12 Americans, and more than 5,000 injured.

A photograph of the arrested man being led away by police appeared in a Nairobi newspaper Saturday. It also showed a bearded man, but Bwaku said it was not the person he identified in the photo, although they shared some similarities.

At the first FBI press conference since the bombing a week ago, Special Agent Sheila Horan, a counterterrorism specialist who is in charge of the investigation, said certain parts of the delivery vehicle had been identified by agents sifting through the piles of debris.

She said the type and quantity of high explosive used could not be identified until chemical residue on pieces of evidence was analyzed at the FBI laboratory.

Asked if there was any prior warning of the embassy attack, she declined to answer the specific question.


Bomb threat

But William John Guidice, chief executive and founder of United International Investigative Services, an Anaheim, Calif., company contracted by the State Department to protect the embassy here and U.S. missions in a dozen other countries, said he was told two weeks ago of a bomb threat.

"The only thing we could do was increase security," he said.

He immediately bolstered the force outside the embassy to six guards from four. The extra two guards were used as "rovers" patrolling the perimeter to make sure nobody breached the embassy fence.

The company also maintains a 15-man contingent on duty inside the embassy. They supplement the U.S. Marines but aren't armed except for batons.

Bwaku was one of two guards on duty at the rear entrance of the embassy when the attack occurred. After a three-day break, he had started his shift at 6 a.m. at the first of two barriers blocking entry to the embassy basement, which was used as a parking area by senior officials.

All appeared normal until 10: 30 a.m. when he saw a Mitsubishi Canter pickup truck racing down the main road toward the embassy. At the time, he was raising the barrier for a three-wheel embassy mail vehicle, driven by a friend. He also noticed a car coming out of the neighboring Cooperative House building heading down the shared exit lane to the street.

The speeding truck suddenly turned left into the area, bounced over the sidewalk and headed up the exit lane towards his barrier.

"I sensed something in my heart," said Bwaku. "According to my usual duties, there is no car that is allowed to come through that way."

But the truck's advance was blocked by the Cooperative House vehicle a few yards away from the barrier. The man Bwaku later identified to the FBI leapt out of the truck and walked quickly toward Bwaku.

'Might be late'

"I thought it was someone who might be very late for some occasion," he said. "He was not running, but in a hurried speed. He did everything at a fast pace.

"He put both hands in his pockets and pulled out some objects in each hand. The right hand had three objects which looked somewhat round with some string coming out of each. I suspected they were bombs.

"In the other, left hand, he had one object smaller than the three: I suspected it to be a grenade."

Bwaku took two steps back behind the barrier. In a low voice, the man ordered him to open the barrier.

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