After a spat of attacks in different parts of the country by Islamist militants in retaliation for Kenya’s intervention in Somalia, countries like the U.S., UK, France and Australia issued a series of travel warnings. President Kenyatta said, “We all have a responsibility to bring these attacks to an end. Tourism has been greatly affected by these terror activities. The industry which contributes 10 % to the GDP is virtually on its knees.”
By Jason Straziuso,
TWO bombs exploded in a market in Kenya’s capital on Friday, killing 12 people and injuring 80 as hundreds of British tourists were evacuated from a coastal area where Islamic extremists have operated.
Nairobi Police Chief Benson Kibue, who announced the casualty figures, said two improvised explosive devices detonated in a market area near downtown Nairobi with one bomb damaging a mini-van used for public transportation.
TUI Travel, which owns the British tourism companies Thomson and First Choice, evacuated customers on flights Thursday and Friday and canceled all flights to the coastal city of Mombasa until October. The British government had urged British citizens to leave Mombasa and nearby beach towns.
The United States and Britain were among several nations renewing warnings of possible terror attacks.
Earlier this week, the U.S. warned 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.” Al-Qaida detonated a massive bomb by the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1988, killing more than 200 people.
The U.S. Embassy’s security posture has increased in recent days. Armed Marines now patrol the embassy grounds in bulletproof vests and helmets. Emergency drills tell embassy staff: “Duck and cover, duck and cover.”
“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 U.S. ambassador here.
As for the evacuations of British tourists, many tourism companies have insurance policies that don’t allow travelers to be in high-risk locations, noted Gration, a retired U.S. Air Force major general who runs a technology and investment consultancy in Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said the warnings strengthen the will of terrorists.
Security concerns are high in Kenya because of its proximity to Somalia and the al-Qaida-linked group, al-Shabab, that operates there. In September, four al-Shabab gunmen attacked an upscale mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.
The U.S. Embassy says that more than 100 people have been killed in shootings, grenade attacks and small bomb attacks in Kenya over the past 18 months. Kenyan authorities, with the help of the FBI, recently discovered a huge car bomb that could have caused massive damage.
Kenyatta, who began a previously planned news conference only minutes after the Nairobi explosions, offered his condolences but dismissed the U.S. and U.K. travel warnings, saying that terrorism is a common problem, including in New York and Boston.
Kenya sees a big drop in tourism activity — a major money maker here — whenever such alerts are issued. Kenyatta said the government would install 2,000 security cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa to help combat terrorism.
Gration 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,” Gration 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.”
– – – –