By Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Posted 5:42 p.m. Sept. 17
NAIROBI, KENYA – Terrorist attacks of three years ago in Nairobi, Kenya, were rehashed last Tuesday afternoon as Kenyans listened to news of assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In August 1998, terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden bombed U.S.
embassies in Nairobi and Nigeria’s capital Dar, killing 224 people and
injuring more than 4,000.
For many Kenyans, a sympathetic cry went out Tuesday for the innocent lives lost.
President Daniel Arap Moi issued a statement Tuesday evening condemning the terrorist attacks, calling them “cowardly and heinous acts.” He said terrorism must remain outlawed as a way of resolving conflict.
In Nairobi, Kenyans tried to balance compassion with fermenting bitterness from three years ago. They feared being in the line of fire should the United States decide to attack nearby targets.
Fears of additional raids on Kenya were expressed as the implications of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks sunk in. Several citizens questioned the safety of poor nations if the world’s superpower was penetrated.
Security efforts were heightened at the city airport and international
embassies. Flights to the United States were rerouted or cancelled and for a short while the airport was shut down.
Many embassy workers in Nairobi were concerned with car bombings similar to those in 1998. The American Embassy in Nairobi opened hotlines for Kenyans seeking information about relatives in the United States. It also provided special assistance to American citizens living in Kenya.
Sandy Eklof, a junior from the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying in Nairobi, shed tears as class adjourned Wednesday morning.
“I felt like it was a movie,” said Eklof. “You saw the planes crash into the
buildings and you did not believe it was real. It was too far-fetched.”
A number of American students studying in Nairobi learned of the news from concerned Kenyans and television reports late Tuesday.
The distance and slow communications frustrated many American students as they tried to contact with family members that might have been affected.
“It was odd being so far away, but feeling so affected by it,” said Stephanie Wisniewski, a junior from Vassar College. “At first it did not hit
me. It was like a movie, and I was scared because my aunt works in the World Trade Center.”
Students also expressed worries about actions that the United States would take against the terrorist group and their country. They acknowledged their proximity to Middle Eastern countries, considered prime suspects for providing refuge for the terrorists.
Many students said the U.S. should consider its actions carefully.
“We should take it slowly and be prudent,” said Adam Hensen, a junior at the University of Wisconsin Madison. “The civil liberties of all U.S. citizens, especially those of Arab origins, and people of other nationalities around the world need to be protected.”
Kenya’s Christian leaders requested prayers from Friday to Sunday, and
President Moi asked Kenyan citizens to set an hour aside Friday morning. At Uhuru Park, near Nairobi’s city center, an ecumenical Christian service started at noon to grieve America’s lost.
Muslims within the country were also planning a national day of prayer for the victims and their families.
American students said they appreciated the kind words of local citizens.
“I felt like I got a lot of sympathy,” Eklof said. “When people looked at me I was wondering if they were thinking about what happened.”