Appalled Albright warned of U.S. action Kenyans caught in middle of ideological combat

August 21, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

NAIROBI, Kenya -- After seeing what a terrorist bomb did to some of its victims, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright emerged from Kenyatta National Hospital in this still-shocked capital three days ago and issued a warning that was fulfilled yesterday: "The memory of the United States is long, and our reach is far." Albright had seen firsthand the devastation wrought on the U.S. Embassy by a bomb driven into the compound by three apparent suicide bombers.

She had toured the embassy, now a concrete skeleton, seen the neighboring Ufundi Building, now flattened, gazed up at the skyscraper Cooperative House, now without a single window, and grasped the extent of the damage.

It was clear at a glance that had the bombers managed to drive into the embassy basement, not a single American in that building would have lived.

It was clear, too, that the suffering inflicted on Kenyans in the area and surrounding buildings was targeted primarily against the Americans.

It was only by accident that 20 Kenyans were killed for every American. Had the bombers executed their plan to explode the bomb in the embassy basement the figures could have been reversed.

Before arriving here, Albright saw the devastation in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where an almost simultaneous explosion targeted the U.S. Embassy with less effect but no less evil intent.

Suspicions had already focused on Osama bin Laden, a Saudi militant based in Afghanistan and believed to be a leading sponsor of anti-American terrorism.

He was said to have been identified by Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, who was being interrogated by FBI and Kenyan investigators. Odeh was arrested at Karachi airport in Pakistan on the day of the bombings while en route from Nairobi to Afghanistan on false Yemeni papers.

Reports from Pakistan and Kenya suggested that Odeh, who was extradited here last week and named as the main architect of the bombings, was directly linked with bin Laden.

For Kenyans, novices at dealing with international terrorism, the experience of being caught in the middle of ideological combat has been traumatic. There is a feeling that they have paid the price without being the target, and they expect compensation from Washington.

There is acute awareness that their security failed, not only in preventing the attack but in failing to adequately respond.

And there is latent anti-Americanism, based on the perception that while their blood was being spilled they were still being treated as second-class citizens as Americans concentrated on saving their own and securing the embassy before assisting wounded Africans.

There are likely to be differing reactions here to the U.S. punitive action.

With so many Kenyan families affected by the embassy blast, the desire for justice is strong. But just how ready Kenyans are to align themselves with iron-fist retribution remains to be seen.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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