May 17, 2014 in Nation/World

Two bombs kill 10 in Kenya market

Britain, U.S. issue security warnings
Jason Straziuso Associated Press
 

NAIROBI, Kenya – Two bombs killed 10 people and wounded 70 others Friday in Kenya’s capital, while hundreds of British tourists were evacuated from the coastal resort of Mombasa after warnings of an impending attack by Islamic extremists.

The U.S. ambassador has requested additional security and is reducing the number of people stationed at the embassy in Nairobi amid an increase in threats.

No group claimed responsibility for the blasts, which went off minutes apart in the Gikomba market near downtown Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, appearing at a previously planned news conference shortly after the bombings, offered his condolences.

But he dismissed the tourism warnings from the U.S. and Britain that led to the evacuations, saying terrorism is a common problem and not unique to Kenya.

Police Chief Benson Kibue announced the casualty figures.

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden condemned the bombing as “the latest in a series of cowardly attacks on innocent civilians in Kenya, from the capital to the coast.”

Security concerns are high in Kenya because of its proximity to Somalia and the al-Qaida-linked group al-Shabab, which operates there. In September, four al-Shabab gunmen attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.

On Thursday and Friday, TUI Travel, which owns the British tourism companies Thomson and First Choice, evacuated customers and canceled all flights to the coastal city of Mombasa until October. The British government had urged its citizens to leave Mombasa and nearby beach towns.

The U.S. and Britain were among several nations renewing warnings of possible terrorist attacks.

Earlier this week, the U.S. warned for the first time that its embassy itself is taking new steps to increase security “due to recent threat information regarding the international community in Kenya.”

On Friday, Ambassador Robert Godec sent a letter to his staff, saying he has requested assistance from the Kenyan police and State Department. Godec said additional police are patrolling the embassy vicinity and that more assets will arrive from Washington next week.

The embassy is also reducing its staffing numbers.

“Unfortunately, the security situation in Kenya, especially in Nairobi and Mombasa, continues to worsen. Since the tragic events of Westgate in September 2013, the number of attacks, threats and warnings is deeply concerning,” Godec said, referring to the assault on the mall.

More than 100 people have been killed in shootings, grenade attacks and small bombings in Kenya in the past 18 months, the U.S. Embassy said. Kenyan authorities, with the help of the FBI, recently discovered a huge car bomb that could have caused a lot of damage.

Al-Qaida detonated a massive bomb by the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing more than 200 people.

As for the evacuations, many travel companies have insurance policies that don’t allow tourists 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.

Some of the tourists boarding a flight home at Mombasa airport expressed disappointment with the travel company’s decision to evacuate them, saying they had felt safe in Mombasa.

Kenyatta said the warnings strengthen the will of terrorists.

Kenya sees a big drop in tourism activity – a major money-maker – whenever such alerts are issued. Kenyatta said the government would install 2,000 security cameras in Nairobi and Mombasa to help combat terrorism.

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