Ten people killed and dozens wounded in twin bomb attacks in busy market in Nairobi a day after tourists evacuated by Foreign Office
Ten people have died in twin explosions in Kenya’s capital that hit a bus and a busy second-hand clothes market, also wounding at least 70 others two days after Britain warned its citizens to avoid parts of the country.
It was the deadliest terror attack since the Westgate Shopping Centre raid in September, when terrorists from al-Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, al-Shabaab, killed 67 people.
Friday’s attacks took place almost simultaneously in an area east of Nairobi’s central business district that serves as a major transport interchange for people heading to poorer suburban residential areas.
One of the devices was detonated inside a public minibus taxi and the other beneath a clothes stall in the open-air market.
Members of the public help to roll out a police tape at the scene of a twin explosion at the Gikomba open-air market for second-hand clothes in Nairobi
“Many of the injured are bleeding profusely, we need a lot of blood,” said Simon Ithae, spokesman for the city’s largest hospital.
Britain joined America, France, Australia and others this week in warning its citizens to avoid some areas of the country including the whole of the second-largest city, Mombasa, and beaches to its north.
Hundreds of British holidaymakers were flying home on Friday after major tour operators Thomson and First Choice ordered all of their clients staying in Kenya’s resorts to be evacuated.
Thomas Cook said its customers on the country’s coast were staying outside alert areas. Kuoni said had suspended offering holidays to Kenya’s beaches. Safari areas are not affected by the new advisories.
Convoys of tourist coaches were seen on Friday speeding through Mombasa city centre – which the Foreign Office now deems unsafe – towards the airport accompanied by several police four-wheel-drives full of armed officers.
Two specially chartered jets were sent from London to collect them.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, said in nationally televised address that he was not aware of reasons for the new British travel advisory.
“Countries issuing advisories have not shared any intelligence with Kenya to justify their actions,” he said. Sources have said the alert level was raised due to the cumulative effects of bomb attacks like Friday’s in Nairobi.
There have been a series of such explosions since early March, targeting public transport, churches, police stations and roadblocks, and a beach bar near tourist hotels.
Kenyans reacted angrily that the blasts were able to take place despite repeated promises from the government that they were taking measures to root out terror cells.
Thousands of ethnic Somalis were last month rounded up and interrogated in an attempt to unearth those living in Kenya who were sympathetic to al-Shabaab. Hundreds were deported back to Somalia.
But Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan rights activist, tweeted that this operation “was supposed to make Kenya safe. We victimised a whole community. I don’t feel safe”.
Al-Shabaab vowed it would strike Kenya repeatedly after the Kenyan army invaded Somalia to help the international effort to crush the extremists.
The Islamists’ highest-profile attack was the four-day siege on the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, when more than 70 people died.
Since then, individuals in Kenya believed to be sympathetic to al-Shabaab rather than its direct agents have carried out at least ten attacks.
Four people died and 90 were injured on May 4 in a grenade strike on a bus approaching Nairobi. Three died in Mombasa a day earlier, and four people including police officers were killed on April 23. At least 28 people have died in terror attacks since December.
None of the strikes have directly targeted tourists, however. More than 600,000 Kenyans depend on tourism for their livelihoods and senior figures in the industry feared a collapse in business that could last years.
“The place is empty, we’d normally be at least half full but at the moment we’re struggling with 20, 22 percent,” said Mahmud Jan Mohamed, managing director of Serena Hotels, referring to his firm’s hotel north of Mombasa, which falls within the Foreign Office’s new alert zone.
“There have been problems in the past, but we have never had evacuations. This is very different, this advisory really is very, very strong, and I have to express disappointment at how negative it is.
“I’m worried the impact of this is going to be into 2015 at least.”
Kenya received 149,000 British visitors in 2013, down from 186,000 in 2012, but the country has always been a leading destination for safaris by Britons, the Kenya Tourism Board said in a statement.
Muriithi Ndegwa, the organisation’s chairman, said he was “disappointed” by the Foreign Office decision.
“We will work tirelessly with the British Government to demonstrate the enhanced security in place to ensure the safety of British visitors,” he said.