Blasts kill 10 and wound 70 in Nairobi hours after terror warning

Before the blasts, the US Embassy sent out a new travel alert to American citizens warning of a continued terrorist threat in a country where the US Embassy suffered a devastating attack in 1998.

Two improvised explosive devices exploded at the Gikomba open-air market in Nairobi on Friday. Thomas Mukoya / Reuters / May 16, 2014
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NAIROBI // Two blasts hit Kenya’s capital on Friday, killing at least 10 people and injuring 70 more in the latest in a string of increasingly frequent terror attacks.

Two improvised explosive devices detonated in a market area near Nairobi’s city centre. One blast hit a minivan used for public transportation.

“Many of the injured are bleeding profusely. We need a lot of blood,” said the government spokesman Simon Ithae, said in an appeal for donors.

The IEDs were detonated at the same time, said the Nairobi police chief, Benson Kibue, trying to reassure an increasingly sceptical public that the security forces are in control.

“Don’t panic. We are on top of things,” he said, adding the one suspect had been detained.

Before the blasts, the US Embassy sent out a new travel alert to American citizens warning of a continued terrorist threat in a country where the US Embassy suffered a devastating attack in 1998.

An earlier US warning this week said for the first time that the embassy itself is taking new steps to increase security “due to recent threat information regarding the international community in Kenya”.

Britain’s government also warned its citizens this week to avoid Mombasa and beach towns nearby, prompting a travel company to cut short the holidays of hundreds of British citizens and fly them home.

Security concerns have long been high in Kenya because of its proximity to Somalia and Al Shabab, the Qaeda-linked terrorist group that operates there. In September, four Al Shabab gunmen attacked an upscale mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people. The 1998 US embassy bombing killed more than 200.

The US Embassy says that more than 100 people have been killed in shootings, grenade attacks and small bombs in Kenya over the past 18 months.

Since the mall attack, Kenya has suffered numerous smaller bombings in Nairobi and Mombasa. Kenyan authorities, with the help of the FBI, also discovered a huge car bomb that could have caused massive damage.

“We know from experience whether it’s been in Yemen where embassies have been attacked or in Benghazi where our consulate and ambassador was attacked, anything that is a symbol of a foreign country is a potential target,” said Scott Gration, a former US ambassador in Kenya.

Mr Gration, a retired US air force major general who runs a technology and investment consultancy in Nairobi, said embassies “are always a target, whether you have a warning out or not, they tend to be a magnet for people that have ideological intentions”.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan president who began a previously planned news conference only minutes after the Nairobi blasts, offered his condolences but dismissed the US and UK travel warnings, saying that terrorism is a common problem, including in New York and Boston.

Mr Kenyatta said he was aware of Britain’s warning and the decision to evacuate tourists.

“I don’t want to refer to anybody in particular. Acts like those that were done yesterday, by the people you just mentioned, only strengthens the will of terrorists as opposed to helping us defeat that war,” Mr Kenyatta said.

Kenya experiences a big drop in tourism – a major moneymaker here – whenever such alerts are issued.

Mr Kenyatta said the government would install 2,000 security cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa to help combat terrorism.

TUI Travel, which owns the British tourism companies Thomson and First Choice, cancelled all flights to Mombasa until October because of the security alert.

The company also evacuated customers in Kenya on flights Thursday and Friday.

Mr Gration said many tourism companies have insurance policies that do not allow travellers to be in high-risk locations. He said Kenya’s coast is a beautiful and mostly safe location.

“My belief is that everywhere there are issues and we all need to be prudent in when we go and where we go,” he said. “So I don’t travel at night, avoid big crowds and lock my doors. Whether you are in Newark, New Jersey or Nairobi, Kenya, we can all fall victim to crime or terrorism.”

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse