Sunday, September 14, 2008



September 14, 2008
Sunday Standard
By Patrick Wachira

The world on Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the US in a paranoid atmosphere.

Not since the World Wars that ended more than half a century ago has the globe been on such a high alert due to terrorism.

And the effects of this security alert are being felt not only in the US, which was the target of the initial attacks, but also in other states, such as Kenya, which became victim and pawn in a scheme conceived miles away.

In August 1998, hundreds of Kenyans were killed and thousands others injured, some maimed for life, by a bomb explosion at the US Embassy in Nairobi.

Then terror suspects bombed the Twin Towers In New York on September 11, 2001. Since then surveillance has been stepped up in many places.

Then followed another attack in 2002 at Kikambala in Kilifi in which Paradise Hotel, owned by an Israeli, was bombed. Again, here, there were deaths and injuries. And again, there were many questions but no answers.

With these attacks, security concerns took centre stage as Kenya woke up to the grim reality that global terrorism was at her doorstep.

In the wake of the attacks in the US, Kenya and Tanzania, it became apparent that there was no knowing if, how and when and where another attack would be executed.

Vehicles screened

Suddenly, it became an obsession to take precautionary measures.

Visitors no longer access buildings without showing their identity cards, which are normally left at the reception. All vehicles are screened as they enter and leave major buildings.

Visitors are also scrutinised and layabouts discouraged from hovering around buildings.

Information desks were set up in police stations for citizens to pass off any tips that could help in intelligence gathering.

Surveillance was increased around vital installations such as airports, power stations and water sources as the country’s military was put on the alert.

Many airlines began to insist that travellers report at the airport two hours before their flights and once cleared, they could not rejoin friends and relatives for farewell.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport also became the subject of focus. General Unit personnel now patrol its grounds, with two watchtowers at the end of the runways, from where officers scan the surroundings.

Three police roadblocks are now a permanent feature of the route to the airport, with at least one of them insisting on searching vehicles entering the airport.

Anti-terrorism unit

Other airports’ security was heightened, with more officers dispatched to avert terrorism threats.

An Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) was set up, headed by a specially trained officer, who immediately set upon training a special team under his command.

As an added security measure, the US embassy was built off Mombasa Road (from where surveillance is convenient) as opposed to its initial location in the crowded Central Business District along Moi Avenue. The embassy later relocated to Gigiri in the outskirts of Nairobi.

These considerations for enhanced security go beyond Nairobi and have been noted even in London, where an improved embassy of the US was unveiled three months ago.

These efforts to increase security are not far-fetched. Just in July, the US issued yet another alert for its citizens "on the continuing threat of terrorist actions".

The alert, issued on July 17, said: "In some countries, the rise in oil and food prices has caused political and economic instability and social unrest. American citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.

Continued threat

The communication, the alert added, "supersedes the Worldwide Caution dated January 17".

It continued: "The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against US citizens and interests overseas. Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

"These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings.

"Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas and locales where Americans gather in large numbers, including during holidays."

The US believes a number of al Qaeda operatives and other extremists are believed to be in and around East Africa.

"As a result of the conflict in Somalia, some of these individuals may seek to relocate elsewhere in the region. Americans considering travel to the region and those already there should review their plans carefully, remain vigilant with regard to their personal security, and exercise caution," said the alert.

The alert against Kenya was, however, reviewed last month after ambassador Michael Ranneberger said the situation had improved.