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THE U.S. EMBASSY BOMBINGS

Deaths in Embassy Blasts Rise to 147; Rescuers Probe Rubble

Injuries pass 4,800 in terrorist bombings. International teams search for survivors in Nairobi, including 1 missing American.

August 09, 1998|MARJORIE MILLER and DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NAIROBI, Kenya — International rescue teams continued a painstaking search for survivors beneath hunks of collapsed concrete Saturday as the death toll from terrorist bombs outside the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania rose to at least 147, with more than 4,800 injured.

Thirty-six hours into the search, an Israeli-led crew salvaged Kenya's floundering rescue effort and boosted the nation's spirits when they extracted a 45-year-old businessman from beneath the debris. Francis Nganga, who had talked for hours to medical workers through a thick wall of concrete, suffered a broken leg but was conscious and expected to survive.

"Get me out of this place," Nganga told rescue workers struggling to free him.

While U.S. officials say the bombs were aimed at American targets, Africans suffered the vast majority of casualties.

Eleven Americans and 14 Kenyan employees of the embassy were among the dead in Nairobi. One U.S. diplomat was still missing in the ruins, and 109 African employees of the mission were unaccounted for, although U.S. officials said they hoped that many had returned to homes without telephones.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, at least eight people died and more than 70 were reported injured in the bomb blast there, which destroyed most of the U.S. Embassy and some nearby buildings. The search for survivors ended Saturday in that sleepy East African city, where no Americans were among the dead.

The United States, France and Israel sent rescue teams to help the Kenyan army try to free survivors from the collapsed Ufundi Cooperative House next to the embassy. The Israelis, with their ample experience in cleaning up after terrorist attacks, led the operation using 20 tons of high-tech search equipment and a squad of eight trained dogs.

The search dogs found seven bodies buried beneath office equipment and other debris in the American Embassy and at least five bodies in the Ufundi office building, an Israeli army spokesman said. He said there are no more survivors in the embassy building.

Israeli army commanders arrived late in the afternoon and quickly transformed the well-intentioned but inexperienced Kenyan effort into a precision military operation.

They immediately overruled the Kenyan decision to approach survivors by burrowing into the base of the disaster scene, opting instead to remove massive slabs of concrete by crane from above.

"It is dangerous to go from downstairs to upstairs, so we go upstairs to downstairs," said Col. Isaac Ashkenazi, the surgeon general for the Israeli rescue team.

Attention Turns to Last Known Survivor

After pulling Nganga from a ground-floor hallway just before 10:30 p.m., the Israeli squad of 170 soldiers turned their attention to the last known survivor of the blast, a woman identified as Jane.

Medical workers had been speaking to the woman through Nganga, who was able to hear her by means of a network of connecting cubbyholes, cracks and caverns in the rubble.

"She is further inside, but she told him, 'It is OK,' " Ashkenazi said. "We will work through the night."

The first of more than 60 FBI officials also arrived Saturday to open what is expected to be a lengthy investigation into the bombings that shocked both African countries, which have friendly relations with the United States. The rest of the team is due today.

U.S. officials refused to speculate on who might have carried out the worst attack on an American compound since 19 U.S. airmen were killed and 500 were wounded at the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia in June 1996. That case has not been resolved.

The Kenyan Daily Nation, quoting witnesses, reported Saturday that a man was spotted driving a pickup truck into the parking lane between the embassy and the Ufundi building at 10:28 a.m. The witnesses said he remained in the truck until the bomb exploded several minutes later. The newspaper said the information had been corroborated by U.S. security officials and Kenyan police, although American officials would not confirm the report.

Statements by a previously unknown Islamic group sent Saturday to a television station that broadcasts to the Persian Gulf region said the Nairobi bombing was carried out by two men from Mecca, Saudi Arabia, while an Egyptian staged the Dar es Salaam attack. It did not mention the men's fate.

Similar statements were sent to Radio France International and a London-based Arabic newspaper. There was no indication that the senders could provide evidence for their claims, and it was not immediately known whether U.S. investigators would give credence to the claim.

In his Saturday radio address, President Clinton vowed to redouble the United States' ongoing fight against terrorism and not allow the bombings in Africa to shake American resolve.

"The most powerful weapon in our counter-terrorism arsenal is our determination to never give up," Clinton said. "No matter how long it takes or where it takes us, we will pursue terrorists until the cases are solved and justice is done."

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