Kenya restaurant blast kills 1, injures dozens

Terrorism ruled out, police official says

June 12, 2007|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A rush-hour explosion at a downtown restaurant killed one person and injured dozens of others yesterday, but Kenyan police said they did not believe the blast was an act of terrorism.

The 8:15 a.m. explosion scattered glass and shrapnel across streets outside the Citygate restaurant. Many of the 37 people injured were standing at a bus-transfer station.

The explosion evoked memories of the 1998 al-Qaida strike against the U.S. Embassy a few blocks from the site of the blast. In 2002, militants also bombed a hotel in the city of Mombasa and tried to shoot down an Israeli-chartered airliner.

An official with Kenya's anti-terrorism unit, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the nature of the injuries and damage from the explosion suggested it might have been caused by a grenade, perhaps detonated accidentally by a criminal or gang member. The body recovered at the scene probably was of the man who was carrying the device, he said.

"We are ruling out terrorism," the official said. "Terrorists would have no interest in that location. There are no Americans. We don't think this was something planned."

Police officials were investigating other possible causes, including an exploding gas cylinder, said Kenyan Police Commissioner Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali.

"Whatever this was, it's a bad thing for innocent people like us," said John Keli, 37, who said he was standing at the bus station and was knocked down by the blast. He was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, where he received treatment for minor cuts to his face.

Hospital officials said about 10 of the wounded suffered serious injuries, including deep cuts, burns and broken limbs. Others were treated for shock or soft-tissue injuries and released.

"It wasn't a very high-magnitude explosion," said Tony Mwangi, a spokesman for the Kenyan Red Cross, which helped treat and evacuate the wounded. "Most don't have serious injuries."

Nearby shops and hotels reopened for business by the early afternoon, though the restaurant remained closed as police continued to investigate.

Tensions in Nairobi have risen in recent months as the nation prepares for this year's presidential election. Pre-election violence in Kenya is common.

In recent weeks, Kenyan police have been battling a criminal gang known as Mungiki, which has been accused of inciting anti-government violence and beheading adversaries who challenge its commercial interests. Last week, police launched a series of raids in a Nairobi slum in an attempt to cripple the gang.

Edmund Sanders writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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