August 7, 1998: US embassy bombings in East Africa

On this day in 1998, US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in by Al Qaeda in a massive attack that killed more than 200 and wounded thousands.

Terrorist attacks that result in hundreds and hundreds of casualties are thankfully rare.

I have never witnessed a terrorist attack. This statement may come across as odd given that I worked in counter terrorism for 15 years and have written five books (soon to be six I hope!) on the subject. To some, the fact that I have never actually been part of the phenomenon I study would come across as proof that I don’t actually know what I am talking about. Not surprisingly, I beg to differ.

Nevertheless, I have been CLOSE to several attacks. I was in New York in 2017 when a bomb went off in a busy subway station, fortunately killing no one. I was in Ottawa in both 1982 and 1985 when Armenian terrorists killed a Turkish diplomat and stormed the Turkish embassy.

I do know, however, someone who was closely involved in a terrorist attack, and a massive one at that. He was posted at the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi (Kenya) in the late 1990s and was talking to a diplomatic colleague in his home on August 7, 1998 when all hell broke loose.

On this day in 1998

On August 7, 1998, nearly simultaneous bombs blew up in front of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 224 people died in the blasts, including 12 Americans, and more than 4,500 people were wounded. The subsequent FBI investigation involved over 900 FBI agents alone—and many more FBI employees— who traveled overseas to assist in the recovery of evidence and the identification of victims at the bomb sites and to track down the perpetrators.

And who were those perpetrators? Al Qaeda (AQ). This was a ‘practice session’ for 9/11 although we did not know it at the time. It was indeed a massive attack, one of the largest in history. And it brought AQ to the attention of many in the West for the first time. Where it has remained ever since.

I cannot imagine what my friend went through that day. In his words he and his colleague were lifted off their feet and thrown across the room by the blast. To his credit he offered any assistance the Canadian High Commission in Kenya could provide. I am sure that the memories of that attack are still with him. And I hope never to be in a similar situation.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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