NAIROBI (Thomson Financial) – The Kenyan capital was rocked today by a bomb blast thought to be the work of a suicide bomber who blew himself up while clutching a copy of the Koran, injuring dozens of people.
‘It was a bomb explosion and body parts have been thrown apart,’ policeman Gabriel Omondi told AFP after the blast in front of the crowded City Gate restaurant on Moi Avenue, one of Nairobi’s main streets.
‘I can confirm one dead. He is a suspected suicide bomber,’ Moses Muchoki, an official from the Kenyan Red Cross, told AFP.
An AFP correspondent saw shredded papers from a Koran strewn at the explosion site.
‘The attack carries the hallmark of a suicide bomber, but we are investigating. We are suspecting that the dead was the bomber,’ said a top police official, who requested to remain unnamed.
Anti-terrorism police arrived at the explosion site to investigate as security officers cordoned off the area from thousands of onlookers and rescue workers and ambulances scrambled to make it through the snarled traffic.
The country’s main Kenyatta National Hospital said it had received dozens of wounded from the blast.
‘We have received at least 31 people with varying degrees of injuries,’ said Herman Wabomba, the hospital’s spokesman. ‘Six of them need urgent surgery.’
Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali confirmed that one person had been killed and about six others wounded, but refused to immediately confirm it was a suicide blast.
‘An incident has occurred, but at this particular stage we do not have very much to say,’ Ali told a press conference at the scene.
‘The incident is being investigated,’ Ali said.
Witnesses described the force of the blast, which ripped through the busy main street as people made their way to work in the morning.
‘It was a huge explosion that occurred as I was headed to office, I suspect it was a bomb,’ said one Paul Mwangi.
‘It was around 8.00 am (0500 GMT) when I heard an explosion… and people came here in tattered clothes,’ Gedion Mutua, a security guard in the nearby Ambassador Hotel, told AFP.
Kenya has been on alert since January when the government said suspected Islamist fighters, accused of links to extremist groups, had fled fighting in Somalia.
East Africa has seen several Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks in recent years, including the near-simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, killing a total of 224 people and injuring some 5,000.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated attackers bombed an Israeli-owned resort hotel near Mombassa in November 2002, killing 15 civilians and three presumed suicide bombers, and unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner there on the same day.
In January, the United States warned its citizens in Kenya of possible reprisals by terrorist groups after Somalia’s Islamists were ousted.
‘Due to possible reprisals by terrorist organisations, American citizens are advised to remain vigilant, avoid demonstrations or large gatherings, and to be cautious when frequenting prominent public places and landmarks,’ its embassy said in a message released in January.
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