US issues travel alert for Kenya as blasts kill 10, hurt almost 80
By ROBYN DIXON | Los Angeles Times | Published: May 16, 2014
JOHANNESBURG — Ten people died Friday when two explosions shattered a market in Nairobi, Kenya, even as hundreds of British tourists were evacuating the country because of warnings of an increased terrorism threat.
Kenya’s National Disaster Operation Center said 76 people were injured in the blasts at Gikomba market, near Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood, a district populated mainly by Somalis and Kenyans of Somali origin.
The Interior Ministry said one blast occurred in a commuter mini-bus and the second in the market. The explosions were simultaneous, said police, who arrested a suspect onlookers reportedly accused of being involved.
The Kenyatta National Hospital and Kenyan Red Cross tweeted calls for blood donations.
Suspicion fell on al-Qaida-linked Somali militants of the Shabab, who are active in Kenya and were responsible for last year’s devastating attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. The group has vowed to continue attacks in Kenya, whose military is serving in Somalia as part of an African Union force that has driven the Shabab from its major strongholds.
The blasts came after the U.S. and Britain on Thursday issued travel alerts warning of possible terrorist attacks in Kenya. Two major British tour companies evacuated about 500 tourists Thursday and Friday after the British Foreign Office warned against all but essential travel to Kenya.
The American travel warning issued Thursday said, “The U.S. government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at U.S., Western, and Kenyan interests in Kenya, including the Nairobi area and the coastal cities of Mombasa and Diani.”
It noted that more than 100 people had been killed in attacks since the end of 2012.
Kenya’s government reacted angrily to the travel warnings, describing them as “unfriendly” and insisting that tourists were safe in Kenya.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said the warnings only strengthened the will of terrorists.
“All of us around the world must be united to ensure that we are able to fight this particular terror,” he said in a televised news conference.
Friday’s blasts followed several attacks this month in Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.
Three people died and 86 were wounded May 4 when two bombs exploded on buses on a Nairobi highway. Two bombs were set off a day earlier in Mombasa, including one at a bus stop that killed four people.
Grenades have been hurled at nightclubs, bars and bus stations. In March, police discovered a powerful car bomb in Mombasa, suggesting that the sophistication of terrorist attacks in Kenya is growing.
Shabab bombings and attacks in Somalia also persist.
Kenyan security forces have repeatedly targeted Eastleigh for security sweeps and launched a crackdown in April, raiding shops and houses and rounding up thousands of Somalis. Hundreds were identified for deportation, and others were shipped to remote camps.
Critics accuse security forces of targeting people based on ethnicity.
“Kenyan authorities should immediately end ongoing harassment, arbitrary detentions, forced relocations to refugee camps and summary deportations in a roundup operation that has affected both foreigners and Kenyan citizens,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday. It said the raids did not improve security in Kenya.
Last year’s assault on the upscale Westgate shopping mall is the Shabab’s most devastating, killing 67 people. A few terrorists opened fire on shoppers, including children, and managed to hold security forces at bay for days.