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Kenya, Tanzania, US Mark 10th Anniversary of Embassy Bombings


August 7 marks the 10th anniversary of near-simultaneous bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. They killed more than 200 people. Analysts say the attacks marked the first time the U.S. government recognized al-Qaida as a serious threat. The attacks also showed that African civilians were vulnerable to international terrorism. Some victims of the bombings believe the United States needs to do more to compensate them for their losses. Leta Hong Fincher has this report.

Car bombs exploded outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the morning of August 7, 1998. The attacks killed more than 200 people and injured around 5,000, mostly African civilians.

Among those killed at the Nairobi embassy was U.S. foreign service officer Prabhi Kavaler. Her husband, Howard, survived the attack and describes searching for his wife through the wreckage.

"I headed out for that part of the embassy, and I just couldn't find her. It was pretty awful. I came over, I discovered a number of bodies, people were killed, I heard people [who] were severely injured, and I could just never find, I couldn't find my wife's body. And then I went back out again, and she wasn't there. At that point I realized what had happened," he said.

What had happened was the first major attack by al-Qaida on American targets and the worst international terrorist incident on African soil. Afterwards, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation placed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden on its list of most wanted fugitives.

"In a lot of ways it was al-Qaida's coming out party. Here, they were able to carry out devastating, near-simultaneous attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa. And that represented just a huge improvement in their capabilities," said William Rosenau is with the RAND Corporation research group in Washington.

Mark Bellamy, U.S. ambassador to Kenya from 2003 to 2006, says the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were struck because they were vulnerable targets. But he says many Kenyans believe they were attacked because of their country's close ties to the United States. And some view the compensation as inadequate.

"Many of them felt that more needed to be done by the United States. In the Kenyan case, we spent, I think, about upwards of $42 million over several years to provide medical care and rehabilitative care to the victims, to the survivors, and to their families, to rebuild businesses, to help reestablish livelihoods," he said.

Some of the American victims of the 1998 bombings believe the U.S. government has forgotten about them and focused more on the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"Whenever the president and Secretary Rice refer to al-Qaida and terrorism, they never seem to refer to what happened on 8/7/98, it's always 9/11/2001 and I think in so doing, they're not being historically honest," said Kavaler.

After his wife's death, Kavaler raised their two daughters alone in a Virginia suburb. He says the only compensation his family received was one year of his wife's salary and payment for her unused vacation time.

The State Department declined to comment on compensation for the U.S. victims.

Rosenau says the United States should reassess its compensation for the African victims.

"I think it's fair to say the U.S. government could have done a lot more to compensate and support the Kenyan and Tanzanian victims of those attacks. The U.S. did make compensation, I think it was probably too little. I think we needed to do, and we probably still need to do more to reach out to support those people who suffered," he said.

Ten years after the bombings, many of those involved in the attacks are in custody. But others are still at large.