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1998 United States embassy bombings
Aftermath at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi
Location Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Nairobi, Kenya
Coordinates 1°17′S 36°49′E / 1.283°S 36.817°E / -1.283; 36.817 and 6°48′S 39°17′E / 6.8°S 39.283°E / -6.8; 39.283
Date August 7, 1998
10:30 a.m. – 10:40 a.m. (00)
Target United States embassies
Attack type
Truck bombs
Weapons TNT, ammonium nitrate, pistol, stun grenade
Deaths 224
Non-fatal injuries
More than 4,000
Perpetrators Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and others
Assailants al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad

The 1998 United States embassy bombings were a series of attacks that occurred on August 7, 1998, in which hundreds of people were killed in simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the embassies of the United States in the East African cities of Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. The date of the bombings marked the eighth anniversary of the arrival of American forces in Saudi Arabia.[1]

The attacks were linked to local members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, brought Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and their terrorist organization al-Qaeda, to the attention of the American public for the first time, and resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) placing bin Laden on its ten most-wanted fugitives list. The FBI also connected the attack to Azerbaijan, as 60 calls regarding the strike were placed via satellite phone by bin Laden to associates in the country's capital Baku.[2] Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was credited for being the mastermind behind the bombings.[3][4]

Motivation and preparation

The bombings are widely believed to have been revenge for American involvement in the extradition, and alleged torture, of four members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) who had been arrested in Albania in the two months prior to the attacks.[5] Between June and July, Ahmad Isma'il 'Uthman Saleh, Ahmad Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Naggar, Shawqi Salama Mustafa Atiya and Mohamed Hassan Tita were all renditioned from Albania to Egypt, with the cooperation of the United States; the four men were accused of participating in the assassination of Rifaat el-Mahgoub, as well as a later plot against the Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo.[6] The following month, a communique was issued warning the United States that a "response" was being prepared to repay them for their interference.[7][8]

A Nissan Atlas truck, similar to that used in Dar es-Salaam

According to journalist Lawrence Wright, the Nairobi operation was named after the Holy Kaaba in Mecca; the Dar es Salaam bombing was called Operation al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, but "neither had an obvious connection to the American embassies in Africa. Bin Laden initially said that the sites had been targeted because of the 'invasion' of Somalia; then he described an American plan to partition Sudan, which he said was hatched in the embassy in Nairobi. He also told his followers that the genocide in Rwanda had been planned inside the two American embassies."

Wright concludes that bin Laden's actual goal was "to lure the United States into Afghanistan, which had long been called 'The Graveyard of Empires.'"[9] According to a 1998 memo authored by Mohammed Atef and seized by the FBI, around the time of the attacks, al-Qaeda had both an interest in and specific knowledge of negotiations between the Taliban and the American-led gas pipeline consortium CentGas.[10]

In May 1998, a villa in Nairobi was purchased by one of the bombers for the purpose of accommodating bomb building in the garage. Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan purchased a beige Toyota Dyna truck in Nairobi and a 1987 Nissan Atlas refrigeration truck in Dar es Salaam. Six metal bars were used to form a "cage" on the back of the Atlas to accommodate the bomb.[11]

In June 1998, KK Mohamed rented House 213 in the Illala district of Dar es Salaam, about four miles (6 km) from the U.S. Embassy. A white Suzuki Samurai was used to haul bomb components hidden in rice sacks, from House 213.

In both Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Mohammed Odeh supervised construction of two massive, 900 kg destructive devices. The Nairobi bomb was made of 400 to 500 cylinders of TNT (about the size of soda cans), aluminum nitrate, aluminum powder and detonating cord. The explosives were packed into some twenty specially designed wooden crates that were sealed and then placed in the bed of the trucks. Muhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah ran a wire from the bomb to a set of batteries in the back of the truck cab and then to a detonator switch beneath the dashboard.[11] The Dar es Salaam bomb used a slightly different construction: the TNT was attached to fifteen oxygen tanks and gas canisters, and was surrounded with four bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and some sand bags to tamp and direct the blast.[12]

The bombings were scheduled for August 7, the eighth anniversary of the arrival of American troops in Saudi Arabia, likely a choice by Osama bin Laden.[13]

Attacks and casualties

Wreckage from the Nairobi bombing.

On August 7, between 10:30 a.m. and 10:40 a.m. local time (3:30–3:40 a.m. EST), suicide bombers in trucks laden with explosives parked outside the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, and almost simultaneously detonated.[14] In Nairobi, approximately 212 people were killed, and an estimated 4,000 wounded; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[15] Seismological readings analyzed after the bombs indicated energy of between 3–17 tons of high explosive material.[16] Although the attacks were directed at American facilities, the vast majority of casualties were local citizens; 12 Americans were killed,[17] including two Central Intelligence Agency employees in the Nairobi embassy, Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy,[18] and one U.S. Marine, Sergeant Jesse Aliganga, a Marine Security Guard at the Nairobi embassy.[19][20] SGT Kenneth R. Hobson, II was one of the 11 Americans killed in the attack.

While driver Azzam drove the Toyota Dyna quickly toward the Nairobi embassy along with Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali,[21] local security guard Benson Okuku Bwaku was warned to open the gate immediately – and fired upon when he refused to comply. Al-Owhali threw a stun grenade at embassy guards before exiting the vehicle and running off.[22] Osama bin Laden later offered the explanation that it had been Al-Owhali's intention to leap out and shoot the guards to clear a path for the truck, but that he had left his pistol in the truck and subsequently ran off.[21] As Bwaku radioed to Marine Post One for backup, the truck detonated.[22]

The explosion damaged the embassy building and flattened the neighbouring Ufundi Building where most victims were killed, mainly students and staff of a secretarial college housed here. The heat from the blast was channelled between the buildings towards Haile Selassie Avenue where a packed commuter bus was burned. Windows were shattered in a radius of nearly one kilometer. A large number of eye injuries occurred because people in buildings nearby who had heard the first explosion of the hand grenade and the shooting went to their office windows to have a look when the main blast occurred and shattered the windows.

Meanwhile, the Atlas truck in Dar es Salaam was being driven by Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, known as "Ahmed the German" due to his blonde hair, a former camp trainer who had arrived in the country only a few days earlier.[11] The death toll was less than in Nairobi as the U.S. embassy was located outside the city center on Bagamoyo Road on a large plot with no immediate neighbours close to the gate where the explosion occurred.

Following the attacks, a group calling itself the "Liberation Army for Holy Sites" took credit for the bombings. American investigators believe the term was a cover used by Egyptian Islamic Jihad, who had actually perpetrated the bombing.[23]

Aftermath and international response

Memorial at the site of the embassy in Nairobi. (2007)

In response to the bombings, President Bill Clinton ordered Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, announcing the planned strike in a prime time address on American television.

In Sudan, the missiles destroyed the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, where 50% of Sudan's medications for both people and animals were manufactured. The Clinton administration claimed that there was ample evidence to prove that the plant produced chemical weapons, but a thorough investigation after the missile strikes revealed that the intelligence was false.[24]

The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1189 condemning the attacks on the embassies.

Both embassies were heavily damaged and the Nairobi embassy had to be rebuilt. It is now located across the road from the office of the World Food Programme for security purposes. A few months after the attacks and subsequent American missile strikes in Afghanistan, the American energy company Unocal withdrew its plans for a gas pipeline through Afghanistan.[25]

Within months following the bombings, the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security added Kenya to its Antiterrorism Assistance Program (ATA), which was originally created in 1983. While the addition was largely a formality to reaffirm America's commitment to fighting terrorism in Kenya, it nonetheless sparked the beginning of an active bilateral antiterrorism campaign between the United States and Kenya. The U.S. Government also rapidly and permanently increased the monetary aid to Kenya. Immediate changes included a $42 million grant targeted specifically towards Kenyan victims.[26]


Following the investigation, an indictment was issued. It charges the following 21 people for various alleged roles the bombings.[27]

Name Disposition
Bin Laden, OsamaOsama bin Laden Killed in Abottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011
Atef, MuhammadMuhammad Atef Killed in Kabul, Afghanistan on November 14, 2001
Zawahiri, AymanAyman al Zawahiri Fugitive
Adel, SaifSaif al Adel Fugitive
Salim, Mamdouh MahmudMamdouh Mahmud Salim Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[28]
Abdullah, Abdullah AhmedAbdullah Ahmed Abdullah Fugitive
Atwah, Muhsin Musa MatwalliMuhsin Musa Matwalli Atwah Killed in Naghar Kalai, Pakistan on April 12, 2006
Fawwaz, KhalidKhalid al Fawwaz Awaiting trial in the United States[29]
Hage, WadihWadih el Hage Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[30]
Libi, AnasAnas al Libi Captured in Libya on October 5, 2013
Eidarous, IbrahimIbrahim Eidarous Died in 2008 while under house arrest in the United Kingdom
Bari, Adel AbdelAdel Abdel Bari Awaiting trial in the United States[29]
Mohammed, Fazul AbdullahFazul Abdullah Mohammed Killed in Mogadishu, Somalia by Somali government troops on June 8, 2011
Ali, Ahmed Mohammed HamedAhmed Mohammed Hamed Ali Killed in Pakistan in 2010[31]
Odeh, Mohammed SadeekMohammed Sadeek Odeh Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[32]
Owhali, Mohamed Rashed DaoudMohamed Rashed Daoud al-'Owhali Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[33]
Fadhil, Mustafa MohamedMustafa Mohamed Fadhil Killed in Afghanistan[34]
Mohamed, Khalfan KhamisKhalfan Khamis Mohamed Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[35]
Ghailani, Ahmed KhalfanAhmed Khalfan Ghailani Serving sentence of life imprisonment in the United States[36]
Msalam, Fahid Mohammed AllyFahid Mohammed Ally Msalam Killed in Pakistan on January 1, 2009
Swedan, Sheikh Ahmed SalimSheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan Killed in Pakistan on January 1, 2009

See also

  • Terrorism in Kenya


  1. Lifting the Veil, May 6, 2006.
  2. "Book Review: ‘Mercenaries, Extremists, and Islamist Fighters in Karabagh War". Armenian Weekly. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
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  5. Mayer, Jane (2008). The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. New York: Doubleday. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-385-52639-5. 
  6. Victoria Advocate, Bombings connect to mysterious arrests, August 13, 1998
  7. Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Summary of the Security Intelligence Report concerning Mahmoud Jaballah, February 22, 2008. Appendix A.
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  14. "U.S. Embassy Bombings". U.S. Department of State website. Archived from the original on 5 August 2007. Retrieved August 4, 2007. 
  15. "Online NewsHour – African Embassy Bombings". Retrieved August 4, 2007. 
  16. "Some Practical Applications of Forensic Seismology" (PDF). Retrieved November 3, 2010. 
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  18. Associated Press, "Bin Laden raid avenged secret CIA deaths", Japan Times, 30 May 2011, p. 1.
  19. Jesse Nathanael Aliganga
  20. Fil-Am hero guard killed in Nairobi
  21. 21.0 21.1 Ressa, Maria (2003). Seeds of Terror. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-7432-5133-4. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Katz, Samuel M. (2002). Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the manhunt for the al-Qaeda terrorists. New York: Forge/Tom Doherty. ISBN 0-7653-0402-3. 
  23. Global Briefings, Issue 27, "Osama bin Laden tied to other Fundamentalists", September 1998.
  24. Barletta, Michael (1998). "Chemical Weapons in the Sudan: Allegations and Evidence". Monterey Institute of International Studies. pp. 5–48. 
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  27. United States v. Usama bin Laden, et al. (indictment). Provided by the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
  28. "Inmate Locator search for register number '42426-054'". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Rueb, Emily S. (2012-10-06). "Extradited Muslim Cleric and 4 Other Terrorism Suspects Appear in American Courts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
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  31. Miller, Greg (2010-02-21). "Increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing few high-value militants". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  32. "Inmate Locator search for register number '42375-054'". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  33. "Inmate Locator search for register number '42371-054'". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  34. "JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment for Majid Abdu Ahmed" (PDF). 
  35. "Inmate Locator search for register number '44623-054'". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  36. "Inmate Locator search for register number '02476-748'". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 

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