|A survivor of the explosion is assisted to alight from an ambulance at Kenyatta National Hospital yesterday. [PHOTO: EVANS HABIL/STANDARD]|
By Cyrus Ombati
NAIROBI, KENYA: Some could have been from church or visiting friends and were happy to sit back in the matatu taking them home. The music blared as they probably looked at Eastleigh’s bustling streets, a part of Nairobi teeming with humanity round the clock.
Being a Sunday afternoon, the roads were clear and so the ride would be short, and obviously cheaper as there weren’t that many passengers for matatu crews to fight over.
Oblivious of the deathtrap awaiting them, some might just have thought of their children or younger siblings when the minibus, registration KAY 71F slowly passed by St Teresa’s Primary School.
That is when tragedy struck. A vile male criminal who reportedly desecrated the revered Bui Bui, the piece of black cloth worn as a shawl by Muslim women, by putting it on to conceal his identity and intentions, pulled out an improvised explosive device (IED) and threw it into the minibus.
What followed is a story painful to tell, and for those who witnessed it, a monstrous and graphic crime that will forever remain etched to the mind. It also will be reason for sleepless nights, enduring trauma, and the fear of the unknown among all as they sit in buses in traffic or even across the roads.
The explosion killed seven innocent Kenyans, with some of the bodies mutilated. One could see a hand here and a leg there.
Blood flowed and 30 victims grimaced in pain as they were rushed to hospital, their bodies having taken the impact of the flying shrapnel and metal.
Other passersby were trampled upon as humanity around them fled for dear life, blinded by dust and smoke, and confused by the ear-splitting bang that rocked their easy Sunday afternoon.
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The impact could be discerned from the forlorn matatu in the middle of the road, torn apart by the explosion, with its tyres flattened and body-frame ripped apart.
And the driver of the minibus, Mr Bernard Kibe who escaped death by a whisker, described the incident as “terrifying and shocking.”
“I had left the garage and was headed to Kariobangi and on reaching Marie Stopes (along) Second Avenue I saw my vehicle in the air,” added Kibe who was lucky because he was in the driver’s cabin and the device was thrown towards the passenger side.
Kibe said he was carrying 25 passengers and had packed his vehicle to capacity since he was from the main terminus.
He said that following the incident he called his conductor’s cell phone to establish where he was. A doctor picked the call and said the conductor could not talk as he was being attended to.
The assault on the nation, striking at the heart of the city, rekindled bitter memories of previous terror attacks, which police linked to Al-Shabaab sympathisers, in other parts of Nairobi as well as Mombasa and Garissa.
It also rubbed salt into wounds yet to heal from last week’s killing of two police officers in Garissa as they walked down a street, and the slaughter of 42 police officers in Suguta’s ‘Valley of death’ by cattle rustlers who ordinarily would be having just a handful of guns and probably spears and pangas.
The explosion is also the third in less than a month in Eastleigh area, raising more questions than answers as to what is the motive behind the terrorist attacks.
It is still fresh in the minds of many that a similar attack was directed at innocent children attending Sunday school classes at St Polycarp ACK Church on Juja Road, leaving one child dead and nine others seriously injured.
Three weeks ago police arrested a terror suspect after a device he had planned to detonate inside a supermarket went off and injured him in Eastleigh.
The suspect was in the company of two others and is said to have arrived outside the Joster Supermarket on a motorbike.
Before that incident could be dealt with, an explosion went off at a bridge near Biafra Estate injuring two people a fortnight ago. No arrests have been made so far over the incidents.
On Sunday, Nairobi Provincial Police Officer (PPO) Moses Ombati told journalists at the scene they suspected a terrorist could have planted the explosive inside the minibus and detonated it either from within or outside the vehicle.
Ombati disclosed that two infants had miraculously been rescued from the mangled wreckage of the vehicle after the explosion.
“We have managed to rescue two kids, one less than two weeks old and the other less than a year old and we hope the relatives can come later and pick them up,” he added.
Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan appealed for calm among his constituents saying there was need for both Muslim and Christian leaders to preach peace.
“If members of the two religions engage in attacks then the terrorists will have won the battle and that is what they want so we cannot afford to do so and must prove them wrong,” he added.
Witnesses and police said they arrested a suspect identified as Mohamed Ibrahim, 30 minutes after the explosion.
A witness, Mr Solomon Mua, said he saw the man alight from the matatu and try to board another saloon car that was trailing it but missed a step and fell on the road.
“Police saved him from being killed because he was arrested as he tried to escape from here. The other saloon car sped away from the scene,” Mua told The Standard.
What puzzled many was that after the explosion, unknown gunmen fired at the matatu and other vehicles that were parked nearby.
Bullet holes were visible on one of the vehicles affected.
The impact of the bomb could be seen on nearby buildings whose windowpanes were shattered.
The matatu itself was hurled into the air by the impact and landed a few metres away.
“I felt like the matatu was flying before it came down. I had picked up passengers from Garage area headed for Kariobangi when the incident happened here,” said Kibe, the driver.
Ombati said preliminary findings had shown an IED that had been planted there before it went off caused the blast. The version of members of the public, however, was that it was thrown into the matatu from outside.
Ombati explained they were interrogating at least one suspect in connection with the incident.
“We can confirm there was an explosion that was followed by gun shots. We do not know who are behind it and so far at least seven people are dead,” reported Ombati.
Other intelligence sources said there were warnings of a terror attack on Sunday. The reports showed terrorists who are believed to be sympathisers of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab terror group planned to attack churches.