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Mathew Kimokiy is a local security employee in the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. In 1998 he was a bank fraud investigator with the Criminal Investigation Department of Kenya’s National Police Service and was at the scene of the embassy bombing shortly after the blast to assist his law enforcement colleagues.

On August 7, 1998, he had stepped out for a morning tea break in the vicinity of the Kenyan parliament building and was heading back to his office. He was about 200 meters away from the site of the explosion.

“I took cover to assess what was happening,” Mathew recalled. “Injured people were running away from the blast and then being taken to the hospital; we got a sense that it was an attack.”

Mathew made his way to the nearby Kenyatta International Convention Centre, which included numerous government offices and served as an information hub. In an era before wide use of cell phones, email, or the Internet, radio and TV stations were critical for learning immediate information, and the Kenyatta Centre had televisions. Mathew and his colleagues were able to get information from media reports, as well as learn about the bombing in Tanzania.

Next, he went to the U.S. embassy compound nearby, where he joined other police efforts, aware of the possibility of a follow-on attack.

“It was a very confusing scene,” he said. Instead, he recalled “a trend of good Samaritans” trying to take charge and assist. The U.S. embassy set up its own security perimeter. Being a criminal investigator, Mathew began helping to gather information about the attack, and he noted that several of his National Police Service colleagues joined a task force at the embassy that was assisting with the FBI investigation.

An FBI agent examines evidence, August 17, 1998, at the site of the August 7 bomb blast at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. The blast killed more than 250 people and injured more than 5,500. (AP/Wide World Photos)

When Mathew was asked what he thinks people in DSS and the State Department should know about the embassy attack and about Nairobi today, he responded: “That Nairobi remains critical to crime and terrorism in view of the ongoing regional threats and especially along the close borders with Somalia, plus the related terrorist threats and attacks since 1998.”

He also recommended that people maintain awareness “of the Diplomatic Security leadership tenets to manage programs, lead, and protect mission personnel and contractors, facilities, and information through continued joint proactive policing initiatives by all stakeholders, to include the DS team, mission employees, local law enforcement agencies and the local community.”

NOTE: The U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam led to a 25 percent increase in DSS staffing. The U.S. Congress approved $1.4 billion to build more secure embassies.

In the immediate aftermath, DSS sent 41 special agents, four security engineering officers, and 41 Navy Seabees to the two embassies to assist local staff and begin investigating the attacks. DSS also increased security at other posts that could be targeted by al-Qa’ida.

The East Africa bombings affected attitudes throughout the State Department, with a heightened sense of security awareness. DSS regional security officers were granted increased authority and responsibility, for the first time reporting directly to ambassadors or chiefs of mission. The change elevated RSOs to being security advisors for embassy leadership.

U.S. Department of State

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