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Blast victims push for justice

On this day 20 years ago, everything was going on as usual in Nairobi save for the bustle and hustle that is synonymous with life in the capital.

Everything changed at around 10.30am when a massive truck bomb exploded outside the US embassy, which was located on the junction of Haile Selassie Avenue/Moi Avenue.

Though the embassy was the primary target, Ufundi House, which was located behind the embassy bore its brunt as it was completely brought down. Also affected was adjoining Cooperative Bank House.

A second truck bomb detonated outside the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, neighbouring Tanzania.  The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans and wounded more than 4,500.

So intense was the explosive that it shattered windows in a radius of about one kilometre.  As fate would have it, then United States ambassador Prudence Bushnell was attending a meeting with Trade minister Joseph Kamotho on the 16 floor of Cooperative Bank House. She was knocked unconscious by the blast and badly cut by flying glass but was successfully evacuated for emergency care at a nearby hotel. She was able to recover and shortly took charge of the operations.

In her unpublished memoirs, she tells of how she had made several appeals to Washington for a security upgrade at the embassy or even its relocation to no avail.

At first, rescue operations were uncoordinated with those arriving at the scene including journalists using bare hands and anything they could land on to try and rescue those buried under the rubble.

By nightfall, rescue workers and the military were still toiling under floodlights with excavators to remove bodies from the Ufundi House wreckage.  At first even the US was not sure of who was responsible for the attacks, the first of their magnitude and coordination in the world.

Eventually, al-Qaeda an outfit founded in Afghanistan in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden ironically to fight alongside US troops and the Soviet Union invasion, claimed responsibility. The attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam changed the world and effectively cast the war on terror to the top of priorities for governments, security and intelligence agencies.

Today, the August 7 Memorial Park comprising a peace museum, conference facilities and memorial gardens, stands at the scene of the attack as a reminder of what transpired that day and to honour those who lost their lives as a result of the heinous act, whose names are listed on a plaque.

The flip side, however, is that their families and those who survived are yet to be compensated as were the US staff and Kenyans working for the embassy. They are still fighting for justice in the US. 

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