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Blind Kenyan Seeks to Establish Support Network for Victims of Terror

A 31-year-old blind Kenyan man is on a mission to build a global support group for the victims of terrorism. Douglas Sidialo lost his eyesight in the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

Douglas Sidialo was trying to get to a business appointment on Friday, August 7, 1998, when he got stuck in a traffic jam near the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. Suddenly, he says, he saw a vehicle crash into the Embassy's security gate. Gunshots rang out and he saw a man run past his car. Then there was a huge explosion. The next thing Mr. Sidialo remembers is waking up in the hospital. "I had bruises all over my face. I lost sight immediately after the blast, so I could not really comprehend. And I think it was after a day that I recognized that I was in the hospital. And then I could hear people say, "Well, there was a bomb blast in Nairobi. It was terrible and many people were affected," says Mr. Sidialo.

He says Kenyan doctors tried to save his eyesight, and he was treated by German doctors who flew in to help, but it was to no avail.

Two months later, the blind young man with two children and a wife to support left the hospital, not knowing what he could do to resume a normal, productive life. During the next year he attended a Canadian-funded rehabilitation program to learn computer technology, Braille, and independent living skills. But he says he could not get a job. "The training facilities here are not really good enough to help somebody get a good job. At the same time, Kenyan companies have a funny stereotype with employing people with a disability," he says.

Mr. Sidialo considers himself lucky that his wife can help support the family with her job as a high school teacher. He keeps busy as chairman of a survivors' group called "Visual Seventh August", which provides psychological, physical and financial support to victims of the 1998 blast.

Mr. Sidialo says many of the Kenyan victims, their widows and orphans, are struggling financially. He says insurance companies did not pay claims because acts of terrorism were excluded. He says the Kenyan government provided only some short-term support, and private contributions from the Kenyan public have run out. He says the United States has given more money to reconstruct buildings and businesses in Nairobi than to rehabilitate lives.

Mr. Sidialo says the Kenyans affected by the 1998 attack are just as much victims of anti-American terrorists, and just as deserving of compensation, as those who were killed, wounded, widowed, and orphaned in the United States on September 11. "We are all human beings who should be treated equally," he says.

Still, Mr. Sidialo stresses that he has great sympathy for the United States and the tragedy it suffered in September. He calls the attacks "horrendous, terrible and heinous" and he says there is no justification for killing innocent civilians anywhere.

Mr. Sidialo says he would like to see Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network, captured and put on trial. "He is a man who should be brought to justice. They should arrest him and bring him to justice. I do not advocate for him being killed. If he is arrested and taken into court we may know why he was doing all that. And by knowing that, maybe it can bring an end to terrorism," he says. As for his future, Mr. Sidialo says he would like to form a support group with terrorist victims in the United States. He has already visited Oklahoma City to meet with survivors of the 1995 federal building attack there, and he hopes to make contact soon with World Trade Center victims in New York City.