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February 16, 2019

Political and terror attacks in Kenya since 1975

A file photo of Debris seen after a bomb blast at the Paradise hotel in Mombasa in this handout released November 29, 2002. Photo/REUTERS
A file photo of Debris seen after a bomb blast at the Paradise hotel in Mombasa in this handout released November 29, 2002. Photo/REUTERS

In February 1975, two minor explosions took place in Nairobi, one at the popular Starlight Night Club on Tom Mboya Street and the other at the Kenya National Tourist Information Centre in front of the five-star Hilton Hotel.

An unknown group calling itself the Makini Liberation Organization claimed responsibility but the government seemed to ignore the matter with the then minister for home affairs Daniel arap Moi brushing aside a question about the group in parliament.

However the first major post independence bombing in Kenya occurred on March 1, 1975 at the busy East African Road Services (EARS) terminal on Racecourse Road, Nairobi.

At the time of the blast, the bus terminal was busier than usual following the suspension of passenger train services a month earlier and hence the large number of casualties.

A huge explosion occurred after the driver of one bus started his engine triggering the blast that tore through the bus blowing a huge hole on its side and shattering one side of another bus parked nearby. The bus terminal was teeming with people eager to travel upcountry for the end of month ‘village’ visit ritual.

Seventeen people died instantly, ten others died in hospital and more than 100 people were injured, 37 of them seriously. The explosion of the bomb that was estimated to have weighed between 15 and 25 pounds and its aftermath sent the otherwise peaceful city of Nairobi into a panic with revellers avoiding the then popular cinema halls and night clubs.

A week later, there was an explosion and derailment of a train near Voi. The engine driver who died soon afterwards told the police that his “engine suddenly lifted off the rails and went up in the air”. One Inspector Joel Mitei then based at the Voi Police Station narrated how he heard a noise “like a bomb exploding”.

In between the blasts, there was a wave of bomb scares that spread fear across the country. A few days later the then Member of Parliament for Nyandarua North and a vocal critic of the government JM Kariuki was found murdered and his horribly mutilated body dumped in Ngong Forest.

These blasts were viewed as locally perpetrated political bombings and it was not until 1981 that the first terror bomb struck. On the evening of December 31, 1981, a powerful explosion occurred at the Norfolk Hotel killing 16 people and injuring 85 others.

A bomb had been planted in room number seven of the hotel, a room that had been occupied by an “Arab looking man”, until that morning when he walked out of the hotel without checking out. Later the police with the assistance of Interpol would identify the man as Qaddura Mohammad Abd-El-Hamid, a Moroccan member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The hotel was at that time owned by the Block family of Jewish extraction.

In 1982 Kenya Airways flight KQ 756 was ordered to fly back to the Jomo Kenyatta airport just minutes before it landed in Mogadishu, Somalia after calls had been made claiming that the plane carrying 70 passengers and tonnes of miraa had a bomb planted on it. This however turned out to be a hoax.

And as the agitation for multiparty democracy intensified in the early 1990s, crude bombs made of steel water pipes were used to scare people during the pro reform public meetings. Incidents of real injury were however few and far in between.

Then came the August 1998 bomb blast, so far the worst terrorist attack in the country and one that resulted in massive loss of human life and destruction of property. The Al Qaeda terrorist group attacked the American Embassy on Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi killing 220 people, mostly Kenyans who were in adjacent buildings including the Cooperative House and Ufundi Cooperative Building.

More than 5,000 people were injured across the city by flying debris and shrapnel and Nairobi was thrown into sheer confusion as the country was ill prepared for such a disaster.

On November 28, 2002, a terrorist bomb was planted in a truck at the lobby of the Israeli owned Paradise Hotel in Kikambala. The explosion killed 15 people and left 35 others injured.

The Al Qaeda attackers also unsuccessfully tried to bring down an El Al (Israeli) airline at the Moi international airport, Mombasa using a SAM-7 missile.

On May 12, 2006 three assailants fire bombed the Nairobi offices of Hope FM, having gained entry by killing a private security guard. The attackers were however unable to gain access to the upper floor where the staff was hiding.

On Sunday June 13, 2010 twin blasts rocked the 'NO' referendum prayer day-cum-campaign rally at Uhuru Park, the resultant stampede killing six people and leaving 100 more nursing injuries. The rally that had been organised by Christian leaders to strengthen the opposition to the proposed new constitution had attracted a huge crowd. The Christian leaders were opposed to the inclusion of the Kadhi’s courts and clauses on abortion in the proposed constitution.

Then on September 21, last year four masked Al Shabaab gunmen attacked the up-market Westgate Mall in Westlands, Nairobi, in broad daylight, killing 67 people and wounding about 200 more in a mass shooting rage. The siege on the mall lasted until September 24.

The attack was allegedly in retaliation for the Linda Nchi operation that Kenya had launched inside Somali in 2011 to get rid of the terror group in Somalia.

Since then many other smaller but equally devastating grenade attacks have been witnessed across the country, especially in Nairobi, Mombasa, Wajir and Garissa.

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