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Nairobi restaurant blast kills 1, hurts dozens

Authorities say they believe the explosion was an accident. Many of the injured were at a bus-transfer station.

June 12, 2007|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

NAIROBI, KENYA — A rush-hour explosion at a downtown restaurant killed one person and injured dozens of others Monday, but Kenyan police said they did not believe the blast was an act of terrorism.

The 8:15 a.m. explosion scattered glass, shrapnel and, according to one unconfirmed report, a severed leg across streets outside the Citygate restaurant. Many of the 37 people injured were standing at a congested bus-transfer station.

For many here, the explosion evoked memories of the 1998 Al Qaeda strike against the U.S. Embassy a few blocks from the site of Monday's blast. In 2002, militants also bombed a hotel in the coastal city of Mombasa and tried to shoot down an Israeli-chartered airliner.

An official with Kenya's anti-terrorism unit, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the nature of the injuries and damage from Monday's explosion suggested it might have been caused by a grenade, perhaps detonated accidentally by a criminal or gang member. The body recovered at the scene was probably of the man who was carrying the device, he said.

"We are ruling out terrorism," the official said. "Terrorists would have no interest in that location. There are no Americans. We don't think this was something planned."

Police officials also were investigating other possible causes, including an exploding gas cylinder, said Kenyan Police Commissioner Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali.

"Whatever this was, it's a bad thing for innocent people like us," said John Keli, 37, who said he was standing at the bus station and was knocked down by the blast. He was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, where he received treatment for minor cuts to his face.

Hospital officials said about 10 of the wounded suffered serious injuries, including deep cuts, burns and broken limbs. Others were treated for shock or softtissue injuries and released.

"It wasn't a very high-magnitude explosion," said Tony Mwangi, a spokesman for the Kenyan Red Cross, which helped treat and evacuate the wounded. "Most don't have serious injuries."

Nearby shops and hotels reopened for business by the early afternoon, though the restaurant remained closed as police continued to investigate.

Tensions in Nairobi have been rising in recent months as the nation prepares for a presidential election this year. Preelection violence in Kenya is common.

In recent weeks, Kenyan police have been battling a little-understood criminal gang known as the Mungiki, which has been accused of inciting anti-government violence and beheading adversaries who challenge its commercial interests. Last week, police here launched a series of raids in a Nairobi slum in an attempt to cripple the gang.

Times staff writer Nicholas Soi contributed to this report.

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