Kenya & Tanzania – ‘Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa. Scores Dead’ (Washington Post, 1998)

By Thomas Hadji (2013)

A Critical Analysis of the Washington Post article:


Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa; Scores Dead
August 8th, 1998
Source: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/eafricabombing/stories/main080898.htm)

Summary of the Incident and the Article
On the 7th of August, 1998, a coordinated attack against two US embassies was launched in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Trucks laden with explosives were almost simultaneously detonated outside each of the embassies. Over 212 people were killed in the Nairobi attack with around 4000 people injured. In comparison, 11 people were killed in Dar es Salaam with around 85 people injured.[1] The responsibility of the attack was later claimed by Al Qaeda . Despite the attacks being credited to Fazul Abdullah Mohammed[2], these attacks primarily brought Osama bin Laden to the attention of the US public and resulted in the Federal Bureau of Investigation placing bin Laden on its top ten most wanted fugitives list[3]. For this reason alone, we can regard this incident as an important case in the history of modern terrorism.

Through its emotive and descriptive use of language the article paints a picture of a war scene. A scene similar to battle is laid out for the reader by describing people, “incinerated in their seats… shattered cars smouldering in the street with passengers draped out the windows, of dazed and bleeding survivors lying on the ground pleading for help.”[4] Moreover, the scene of a war is exemplified by describing the victims as “slain Americans”[5]. One could argue that the word ‘slain’ subconsciously conjures up images of slain soldiers in battles. Moreover, it goes further, by giving unnamed quotes from general witnesses that said the scene looked like a “war zone”[6].

The article quotes U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who stated the incident was a case of “indiscriminate terrorism.” The article builds upon the theme that these were helpless victims. A direct reference to a child’s death is mentioned and numerous examples of individual’s frantic attempts to save themselves and others who were left in a state of “shock” are given. For example, it gives 4 references from witnesses who elaborately explain the horror of the attack.

As explained, the article in question is very descriptive of the attack and is high emotive in its use of language. Yet only 1 paragraph, out of 34, goes into any possible reasons as to why the attack happened. The article suggests that the attack was in retaliation to the extradition of three islamic extremists from Albania. Although no   Yet, although possible motives are explored, the article does not explore the possible logic in attacking a US embassy.

Defining Terrorism
There are a number of problems with defining terrorism. The varying types of terrorism contribute to this problem of defining clearly what terrorism is. But also the word terrorism has become inherently laden with emotion. There is a perception that acts of terrorism are unjustified and evil, therefore, it becomes difficult for any real debate within the media of whether the terrorists had any justified grievances to be held. Thus, many definitions are “value laden and can depend on one’s perspective as an actor in a terrorist environment”[7]
However, most definitions would cover the 1998 embassy bombings as a clear case of terrorism. Nonetheless, an American influenced definition of terrorism is useful to bear in mind; “Terrorism is a premeditated and unlawful act in which groups or agents of some principal engage in a threatened or actual use of force or violence against human or property targets. These groups or agents engage in this behaviour, intending he purposeful intimidation of governments to affect policy or behaviour, with an underlying political objective.”[8] As further analysis will later show, the embassy bombings were premeditated, violent, against human and property and had an intention to affect policy with an underlying political agenda and can thus be considered a clear case of terrorism according to this definition.

Gus Martin’s typology of terrorism[9] contributes to the categorisation of this incident.

According to Martin’s typologies this incident can fall within both ‘Dissident terrorism’ and ‘Religious terrorism’. It is dissident terrorism because the attack is aimed against the U.S government, hence attacking a U.S government building. But it is also religious terrorism because Al Qaeda had an “absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned and command the application of terrorist violence for the greater glory of the faith.” [10]

Motivation behind the attack
The motivation behind an act of terror can be complex, in the sense that it can have primary motivations and secondary motivations. However, Martin explains this is an especially prominent feature when dealing with acts of terror that fall under the religious typology[11]. Thus, one must analyse to what extent is religion a primary motivation for this attack?

The article alluded that the attack could have been a retaliation against US help in extraditing Islamic extremists to Cairo from Albania. However, with hindsight and later analysis, the US presence in Saudi Arabia was, in fact, the triggering motivation. Gunaratna states “the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained the issue of primary concern, as was clearly reflected when Al Qaeda planned, prepared and execute it’s first major successful operation against the US”[12] The attack clearly reflects the resentment of the US presence in Saudi Arabia. Firstly the attack occurred on the eighth anniversary of the deployment of US troops in Saudi Arabia. Thus, one could argue that western foreign policy has played a role in the motivation for this attack. Secondly by attacking two embassies the terrorists tried to convey their retaliation against the US presence in Saudi Arabia which is considered ‘Land of Two Holy Places’.[13] It is considered the ‘Land of Two Holy Places because it contains Mecca and Medina, the two most holiest places in Islam. Hence, it becomes apparent that the resentment of US foreign policy is partly rooted in the terrorist’s interpretation of religion.

Furthermore, the individuals who carried out the attack were primarily motivated by their interpretation of their religion. The act of violence and loss of civilian life has been motivated by the belief that the violent act is the expression of the will of their deity, and in return for their action, “awaiting them in paradise are rivers of milk and honey and beautiful young women. Those entering paradise are eventually reunited with their families and as martyrs stand in front of God as innocent as a newborn baby.”[14] In addition, religion not only motivates but legitimises the attack from the terrorists’ point of view. This is the reason why Al Qaeda had issued a fatwa only 6 months before the bombings, “In Islamic law an attack must be preceded by an Islamic decree, or fatwa”[15]. Thus religion, for the individual perpetrators, was clearly an underlying factor that motivated and legitimised this act of terror.

In order to determine the primary motive, one must consider, ‘if one factor were to be deducted from the event would the attack still take place?’. Martin defines primary motivations as “the very core of an extremist group’s political, social and revolutionary agenda.”[16] For AL Qaeda, religion is at the “very core” of its existence. For “Osama never interpreted Islam to assist a given political goal. Islam is his political goal, his rhetoric, philanthropy towards the Muslim poor and military oppressed”[17]. Without the terrorists religious beliefs, it is questionable whether this form of attack, where civilians were the main recipient, would have been considered justifiable by the terrorists. Therefore, one must conclude that religion is the primary motivation for the individual perpetrators of the attack and the organisation to whom they belonged.

Cowardly or Rational Calculation?
The article suggests that the attack represents a cowardly approach from the terrorists. This view is directly represented by President Clinton who angrily vowed to bring justice to those who committed the “cowardly attacks.”[18] However, one could argue from a dissident terrorist’s perspective this form of attack is a rational calculation. Firstly, conventional methods of warfare against a state, let alone one with the military strength of the U.S, is an illogical decision for a dissident terrorist organisation. Martin states, “dissident terrorists avoid direct confrontation out of a pragmatic acceptance of their comparative weakness.” Moreover, the choice of targets and logistics of the attack resembled a cost-benefit calculation. Firstly, a passive symbolic target, such as an embassy, provides a highly lucrative yet low risk opportunity for attack. By attacking an embassy, terrorists can exhibit their demonstrations against the target nation. Thus, it is a symbolic attack because by attacking the embassies the terrorists are a attacking a country. In addition, attacks against embassies are likely to receive high media coverage in the home nation and thus the intended terror will be amplified. The article recognises that the two embassies had been “considered relatively low-risk diplomatic stations, perhaps making them more attractive targets”[19] However, the word “perhaps” suggests an cautious approach in determining why the embassies were targeted. Whilst the article is cautious in suggesting this reason, with hindsight there is no doubt that this factor was logically equated in the preparation for the attack. In the BBC documentary “Age of Terror”, the vulnerability of Nairobi embassy was even recognised by the American Ambassador to Kenya at the time, Prudence Bushnell[20]. Furthermore, it has been stated that Osama bin Laden personally scrutinised photos of the buildings 4 years before the attack occurred and from the photos he had identified the ideal locations for a bomb[21]. This shows the extent to which prior planning had occurred and how the attack was the culmination of rational calculations.
Justified attack?
From the terrorist’s perspective they are “freedom fighters” rather than a terrorists[22]. This implies that from a terrorist perspective their actions will inevitably be justified. With regards to radical islamic terrorists, their own perspective will justify their actions because their interpretation of their faith indicates that they are fighting a justified holy war. Yet, it is difficult to determine whether attacks are justified according to God due to the overtly subjective and individualist nature of faith. Thus, I will analyse the justifiability according to just war doctrine.

Fundamental to the ‘Just War’ doctrine is the differentiation between ‘jus in bello’ and ‘jus ad bellum’. ‘Jus in bello’ is corrective behaviour whilst waging war, and ‘jus ad bellum’ is having the correct conditions for waging war in the first place”[23] Firstly, with regards to ‘jus in bello’, the terrorists actions cannot be justified due to the loss of civilian life. The stark fact that bombings killed more Africans than Americans is undeniable. Therefore, if the attack was justified according to US presence in foreign soils, the killing of African civilians can hardly be regarded as a proportionate response. If one’s counter argument suggested that Kenya and Tanzania publicly supported the US and thus because their citizens elected their officials it makes them directly irresponsible, one would point out that according to the 1998 Corruption Perceptions Index, Kenya and Tanzania were lowly ranked 74th and 81st respectively[24]. Hence, one could question how responsible are they for their elected officials foreign policy. The fact that children, who cannot even vote, were killed further dismisses this potential counter-argument.

However, Al Qaeda’s initial grievances against the US were not totally unjustified. The Gulf war, that caused the instalment of US troops into Saudi Arabia, was not without controversy. The increased use of warplanes and cruise missiles led to numerous civilian deaths. The lack of consideration in distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants is highlighted by the bombing of a shelter in Amiriyah, that led to 408 civilian deaths[25]. These sorts of injustices have led to the perception that, “the people of Islam have suffered from aggression iniquity and injustices imposed upon them by the Zionist-Crusader alliance and their collaborators”[26]. The US’s unwavering backing and support of Israel is major cause of grievance. Even in incidents when Israel are considered to be the wrong by the majority the US tends to back Israel. For example, the 1996 shelling of Qana is a prime case of a justified grievance that was relevant to the time period of the attack. The shelling of the compound by Israel resulted in 106 Lebanese, predominantly Muslim deaths. Israel was widely condemned by the UN[27], however the US symbolically voted against Israel paying reparation costs[28]. Ultimately, US foreign policy has helped fuel a perception that, “the West is perceived to be practicing neocolonialism through its Israeli surrogate and by its unqualified support for existing “un-Islamic” and “illegitimate” regimes across the Arab world”[29]

Did the terrorists achieve their aims?
In response to the bombings, the US ordered a series of cruise missile strikes on targets in Susan and Afghanistan. The US claimed that their intention was to damage al-Qaeda’s ability to excite terrorist attacks by hitting the infrastructure at the Khost facility in Afghanistan and to deny al-Qaeda capability to attain chemical weapons from the El Shifa plant in Sudan[30]. After the attack the US government the found itself defending the strikes because not only were civilians killed but the strikes destroyed a factory where 50% of Sudan medications for both people and animals were produced[31]. As a result, “In predominantly Islamic areas, the response was primarily negative. Muslims felt this showed America’s willingness to violate sovereign airspace and kill civilians.”[32] For Al Qaeda this was beneficial, US international prestige had been damaged and the incident could be used a propaganda toll to lure more recruits into their organisation.
Al Qaeda claimed, “Before 9/11, its immediate goal was the withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia”[33]. Yet the US did not withdraw their troops from Saudi Arabia until 2003. Therefore, one can strongly claim that the 1998 embassy bombing did not directly result in the withdrawal from Saudi Arabia because there was significant time period between the bombing and the withdrawal. Therefore, one could argue according to the goal set out by Al Qaeda the act of terror was not successful.

On the other hand, it is arguable that this attack was carried out purely as a protest against the US. As discussed, it is beyond coincidence that the attack occurred on the eighth anniversary of US presence in Saudi Arabia and was a two pronged attack that resembled a US presence in the “Land of Two Holy Places”. And thus, the preparation that had gone into the symbolism of the act meant that in order for the act to be successful it simply needed to be carried out. Since the attack, commentators have commented on this symbolism and discussed why the attack took the form it did. Thus, one could consider the attack was successful because Al Qaeda’ symbolic message had been conveyed to the Western public.
However, from the terrorist’s perspective the attack had not been successful enough in conveying their message. According to Mike Scheuer, CIA Head of Alec Station which was dedicated to tracking Osama Bin Laden and his associates, bin Laden had warned “I’m going to take an incremental jump in violence every time we attack you, until we get your attention”[34] Therefore, one could argue the terrorists did not believe they had the US attention because they felt the need for the next ‘incremental jump in violence’, i.e. 9/11.

Conclusion
In summary, despite the varied definitions and contentious nature of the word terrorism this act is widely considered to be a clear case of terrorism. The attack was was premeditated with reports suggesting that the planning had started up to 4 years before the attack[35]. The attack was also violent against both humans and property. And lastly, it attempted to alter US policy in Saudi Arabia because of an underlying agenda, i.e. ‘religion’. Yet, the motivations behind the act are not as clear, instead they are complex and overlapping.

The article suggests the US involvement in the extradition of three Islamic extremists from Albania to Cairo could of been a reason for the attack. Since then, many have claimed that the US presence in Saudi Arabia was a triggering motivation for the act of terror. Hence the symbolic selection for the date of the attack. Yet this primary motive was fuelled by AL Qaeda’s underlying and arguably primary motivation, religion. Religion was not only at the core of Al Qaeda, as an organisation, but also acted as a primary motivation for the individual perpetrators. The perceived reward for committing the act of terror was rooted in their interpretation of religion and furthermore legitimised the use of violence in the act. Thus, at first glance the triggering motivation resemble a resentment of US foreign policy, however this resentment is founded in the terrorist’s interpretation of religion. Therefore religion was the core primary motivation. Subsequently US foreign policy can be considered a secondary motivation.

Crucially, although the form of the attack is unjustified due to its indiscriminate nature, the terrorists have justified grievances against the US. This means that although the US may not be able eradicate all terrorists, it can reduce the appeal for individuals joining terrorist organisations who oppose the US, such as AL Qaeda. “Raising awareness among Muslims of the grievances that gave rise to Al Qaeda is essential for recruitment”[36] Therefore, the US can hinder Al Qaeda’s ability to recruit new members by being conscious of the implications of their foreign policy decisions and acting accordingly. The response of the US to this attack is a prime example of US foreign policy fuelling the flames of Al Qaeda.

Bibliography
BBC, The Age of Terror: War on the West, [online], [viewed 05/12/2013], Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhn0HBMvmeE

Bennett B, Al Qaeda operative key to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings killed in Somalia, [online] Los Angeles Times, 2011, [viewed 03/12/2013] Available from:http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/12/world/la-fg-embassy-bombings-20110612

Claiborne W, Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa; Scores Dead, [online] Washington Post, [viewed 27/11/2013] Available from:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/eafricabombing/stories/main080898.htm)

Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002)

Laqueur, W. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999

Martin G, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th

Edition, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012

Online NewsHour, African Embassy Bombings, [online],1998, [viewed 30/11/2013], Available from:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/embassy_bombing/map.html

Phinney, T, Airpower versus Terrorism: Three Case Studies. Unpublished thesis (Major), Air University, 2002-2003

Ranstorp, M.. Terrorism in the name of religion. Journal of International affairs . Vol.50 (1),(1996), p.22-41.

Romero, R Top 10 Notorious Fugitives, [online] Time Lists, 2011, [viewed 01/12/2013] Available from: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1971762_1971761_1971729,00.html

Transparency International, The Corruption Perceptions Index (1998), [online], 1998, [viewed 04/12/2013], Available from: http://archive.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/previous_cpi/1998

Van Kappen, F, Letter dated 7 May 1996 from the secretary general addressed to the president of the security council, [online], United Nations Security Council, 1996, [viewed 02/12/2013] Available from: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/62D5AA740C14293B85256324005179BE

Wieviorka, M. Terrorism in context of academic research. In: Martha Crenshaw Terrorism in Context. Pennsylvannia : Pennsylvannia University State Press, 1995

Williams, I, US votes against requiring Israel to fund rebuilding of Qana, [online] Wshington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1997, [viewed 03/12/2013], Available from: http://www.wrmea.org/wrmea-archives/188-washington-report-archives-1994-1999/august-september-1997/2666-us-votes-against-requiring-israel-to-fund-rebuilding-of-qana-un-camp-.html.

[1] Online NewsHour, African Embassy Bombings, [online],1998, [viewed 30/11/2013], Available from:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/embassy_bombing/map.html

[2] Bennett B, Al Qaeda operative key to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings killed in Somalia, [online] Los Angeles Times, 2011, [viewed 03/12/2013] Available from:http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/12/world/la-fg-embassy-bombings-20110612

[3] Romero, R Top 10 Notorious Fugitives, [online] Time Lists, 2011, [viewed 01/12/2013] Available from: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1971762_1971761_1971729,00.html

[4]Claiborne W, Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa; Scores Dead, [online] Washington Post, [viewed 27/11/2013] Available from:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/eafricabombing/stories/main080898.htm)

[5] Ibid

[6] ibid

[7] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), p.51

[8] Ibid p.38

[9] Ibid p.40

[10] Ibid p.139

[11] Ibid p.161

[12] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.46

[13] Ibid

[14] Laqueur, W. The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.100

[15] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.46

[16] Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), p.161

[17] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.87

[18] Claiborne W, Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa; Scores Dead, [online] Washington Post, [viewed 27/11/2013] Available from:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/eafricabombing/stories/main080898.htm)

[19] Ibid

[20] BBC, The Age of Terror: War on the West, [online], [viewed 04/12/2013], Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FialpR4t6IA

[21] Ibid

[22] Wieviorka, M. Terrorism in context of academic research. In: Martha Crenshaw Terrorism in Context. (Pennsylvannia : Pennsylvannia University State Press, 1995) p.598.

[23]Martin G, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives and Issues 4th

Edition, (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2012), p.15

[24] Transparency International, The Corruption Perceptions Index (1998), [online], 1998, [viewed 04/12/2013], Available from: http://archive.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/previous_cpi/1998

[25] Major-General Franklin Van Kappen, Letter dated 7 May 1996 from the secretary general addressed to the president of the security council, [online], United Nations Security Council, 1996, [viewed 02/12/2013] Available from: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/62D5AA740C14293B85256324005179BE

[26] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.89

[27] Van Kappen, F, Letter dated 7 May 1996 from the secretary general addressed to the president of the security council, [online], United Nations Security Council, 1996, [viewed 02/12/2013] Available from: http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/62D5AA740C14293B85256324005179BE

[28] Williams, I, US votes against requiring Israel to fund rebuilding of Qana, [online] Wshington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1997, [viewed 03/12/2013], Available from: http://www.wrmea.org/wrmea-archives/188-washington-report-archives-1994-1999/august-september-1997/2666-us-votes-against-requiring-israel-to-fund-rebuilding-of-qana-un-camp-.html.

[29] Ranstorp, M.. Terrorism in the name of religion. Journal of International affairs . Vol.50 (1),(1996), p.22-41.

[30] Phinney, T, Airpower versus Terrorism: Three Case Studies. Unpublished thesis (Major), Air University, 2002-2003, p.35

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.89

[34] BBC, The Age of Terror: War on the West, [online], [viewed 04/12/2013], Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FialpR4t6IA

[35] BBC, The Age of Terror: War on the West, [online], [viewed 05/12/2013], Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhn0HBMvmeE

[36] Gunaratna R, Inside Al Qaeda Global Network of Terror, (London:Hurst & Company, 2002) p.88

One thought on “Kenya & Tanzania – ‘Bombs Explode at 2 U.S. Embassies in Africa. Scores Dead’ (Washington Post, 1998)

  1. Very clear and coherent structure, with good intro, conclusion, and signposting, and a clear and logically developed argument throughout.

    Very good analysis too. A good range of aspects are covered in analysing these attacks, and good reflective arguments are developed that demonstrate very good critical skills. Perhaps the response to those attacked by Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities could have been probed a little further, or perhaps just war criteria could have been broken down further to offer a more in-depth discussion of legitimacy, but on the whole this is a very good analysis already.

    The essay is also very well researched, in depth and breadth, and demonstrates very good knowledge and understanding of your case study and its context.

    In terms of presentation, there are a few typos and some slightly convoluted sentences, and the punctuation in the formatting of the bibliography is not always consistent.

    In short, some of the analysis could be even more probing and in more critical depth, but this is an excellent essay already.

    Like

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