1998 Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania

The 1998 simultaneous US embassy bombings in Darussalam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were a sign of intelligence failure by the American government (Pike). This is because of the reliable evidence that was available to the CIA and FBI prior to the attacks.  In particular, the American government had overlooked the security concerns by the then U.S. ambassador in Kenya, Prudence Bushnell (Pike). This has also been closely attributed to the fact that Africa was perceived as being less prone to terrorism attacks back in the 1990s. However, the bombings served as a wakeup call intensifying the American governments wars against terrorism. This essay is a discussion of the 1998 embassy bombings, its motivation, casualties, and aftermath.

The U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es salaam, Tanzania occurred on August 7th 1998 at between 1030 am and 1040 am local time (Pike). The attack involved suicide bombers with explosives loaded on trucks. The attack led to the death of an estimated 258 people with more than 5,000 injured (Pike). According to existing statistics, the bigger majority of those killed or injured were locals working in the embassies. Still clear is that the Nairobi bombing was the most destructive killing 212 people while injuring over 4,000 (Pike). This has been closely attributed to the fact that the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was located in a highly congested downtown area. This is also claimed to be a direct result of the security breakdown that was evident in this embassy prior to the bombings. Existing evidence shows that both the Kenyan marine and local security guards had not trained in detecting and preventing terrorist activities.

According to available information, the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings were triggered by U.S. involvement in the arresting and torturing of four members of an Egypt based Islamic extremist group. This led al-Qaeda leadership to issue the U.S. government with warnings of planed terror attacks. However, according to claims by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, the two embassies were seen as the source of the Rwanda genocide plans. He also claimed that these embassies served much during the invasion of Somalia and the potential U.S. plans to divide Sudan (Johnson).

However, the planning and execution of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing was not without American governments intelligence knowledge. As back as 1991, the FBI started conducting investigations on the al-Qaeda terrorism group. First was the investigation of Wadih El-Hage (who later became Osamas personal secretary) by the FBI after he was suspected of murdering an imam in Tuscan, a case which was dropped citing lack of enough evidence to convict him (Pike). With evidence of the FBI and CIA, an al-Qaeda cell was established in Nairobi Kenya in 1993 by Ali Mohamed. The arrest of Mahmud Abouhalima in 1993 following the world trade center bombing gave the FBI and CIA crucial information on leaders of al-Qaeda and their links in America.

In addition, in the 1997, the U.S. government was informed of the plans by al-Qaeda to bombs the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. This led to the arrest of 9 Arabs by the Kenyan government, seizing crucial documents including surveillance photographs of the embassy (Pike). Nevertheless, the CIA dropped investigations on the on this suspects leading to their deportation. The US raiding of El Hagens house in Nairobi is another sign of failed intelligence. This is because, even with the large evidence found, the investigations were prematurely dropped. Still, the NSA intelligence agency of American evidently conducted surveillance on Osamas satellite phone communications but neither shared their findings with other intelligence agencies nor did they take any action (Pike). All these are clear indicators that the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings were due to intelligence failure by the U.S. government.

The 1998 U.S. embassy bombings marked the recognition of the al-Qaeda group as a great threat to the security of Americans (Johnson). Indeed, it was after the attacks that the FBI put Osama Bin Laden on its top ten most wanted list. In a move to mitigate the al-Qaeda terrorist group, the US government lounged a number of missile attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan. This was because the two nations were closely associated with al-Qaeda group. However, the missile attacks particularly in Sudan were seen to compromise US investigations into the bombings. This is because they never cooperated with the Sudanese government in investigating two suspects of the attacks arrested by the Sudanese intelligence agency (Johnson). Moreover, the attack on Afghanistan led to the withdrawal of a gas pipeline plan that was to pass through Afghanistan.

All in all, though the 1998, embassy bombing revealed a great intelligence failure by the American government, it was no doubt a wakeup call towards intensified war against terrorism. First, the bombings led to more devoted intelligence investigation into the organizational structures of the al-Qaeda group. The relocation of the U.S. embassy in Kenya to a more secure zone is also another lesson gained from the attacks. These bombings are indeed the reason why law enforcement agencies have invested much on bomb and terrorist detection and deterrence.


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