Kenya and Tanzania on Tuesday marked the 20th anniversary of devastating US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, which signaled Al-Qaeda’s emergence as a deadly player on the global stage.
In Nairobi, a solemn ceremony reunited families of the victims and officials at a memorial park in the centre of the Kenyan capital, created on the site of the US embassy.
The diplomatic mission was devastated by a huge explosion on the morning of August 7, 1998, followed minutes later by another massive blast which wrecked the US embassy in Tanzania.
A total of 224 people were killed in the attacks and around 5,000 injured — mostly African citizens.
“Twenty years ago today, evil showed its terrible face in Kenya and Tanzania,” US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec told the Nairobi gathering.
“In the middle of a busy Friday morning, Al-Qaeda terrorists exploded bombs outside the US embassies here in Nairobi and in Dar es Salaam.”
“In an awful moment, the lives of thousands changed forever as did the lives of their families and friends,” he added.
The Nairobi Chamber Choir gave performed the Kenyan and American national anthems, then participants held candles while the names of the victims were read out to the sound of a solo violin.
“On that day, the perpetrator’s — Al-Qaeda — appetite and ambition for large-scale attacks grew,” said Martin Kimani, head of Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Centre.
“Since then, large parts of the world have endured repeated attacks by terrorists,” he added.
A similar memorial service was scheduled to take place in Dar Es Salaam.
The twin attacks introduced the world to Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden three years before the September 11 attacks in New York would make him a household name.
Almost 3,000 people died when hijacked passenger aircraft hit the Pentagon in Washington and destroyed the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, the symbol of New York’s financial wealth.
In May 2011, the White House announced that Bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan by US Special Forces.