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Kenya still bearing scars of al Qaeda attack 20 years on

Scars of al Qaeda attack still visible in KenyaJust after 10:30 on a sunny August morning in downtown Nairobi, 48-year-old Ali Mwadama was walking toward a bank opposite the US embassy, a cheque in hand.

He was less than 50m from the embassy on August 7, 1998 when a truck bomb detonated, transforming the bustling business district into a war zone.

It was Osama bin Laden’s announcement to the world al Qaeda was a global threat: a co-ordinated bombing of US embassies in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania.

The two bombings killed 258 people, the majority in Nairobi. Three years later, al Qaeda would conduct its most notorious attack, flying passenger jets into New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, killing some 3,000 people.

Mwadama does not remember who pulled him from the rubble, bleeding from a gash in his neck caused by a flying shard of glass. He recalls hearing screams and ambulance sirens.

People in blood-soaked clothing were carried on makeshift stretchers past what was left of the embassy.

He lost two friends that day, his livelihood as a voiceover artist and public speaker and the cheque he was going to cash, earned for voicing a Coca-Cola ad aired during the 1998 football World Cup.

Twenty years later, he struggles to turn his head left. A scar runs from below grey hair on the back of his head to the bottom of his ear.

Other scars run deeper.

“Wherever I go, wherever I sit, I am afraid of anything that could attack me,” he told Reuters, holding a photograph taken after the attack.

In it, he stares blankly at a wall, a bloody bandage covering 26 stitches, his three children watching with concerned expressions.

THUNDEROUS BANG

Civil servant Julie Ogoye was talking to a colleague in their fourth floor Nairobi office when she heard a strange noise outside.

“I think I only went two steps then I heard a loud thunderous bang,” she said. “And what I saw was a silverish white cloud moving up.”

That was the last thing she saw for a long time.

For a few seconds there was silence. Then came groans.

Ogoye got up, helped by a colleague and stumbled blindly over debris and what she later learned were dead bodies.

“When I lifted my hand and put it on the socket, I noticed it was empty. My eyeball was hanging at the nose area,” she recalled. The shock made her pass out.

Sight partially returned in her right eye. The left socket was fitted with a prosthesis.

Ogoye is not eager to forget.

At the weekend, she visited the former site of the embassy, now the August 7th Memorial Park.

“This park. It was rubble and blood and stinking, but they have transformed it into a beautiful place,” she said.

“To me it is symbolic. Bad things can happen, but good things conquer bad.”

 

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