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Former soldier's relentless quest for Sh400m US payout

Former Kenya Army officer Layfield Muriithi. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Today, August 7, 2022, marks 23 years since terrorists working under Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, killing more than 200 people.

The national memory of the incident, the deadliest bomb attack on Kenya, is slowly fading but not to former Kenya Army officer Layfield Muriithi.

Mr Muriithi had spontaneously left his station at the Department of Defence (DoD) headquarters where he was a chief warrant officer to help in the rescue. Unfortunately, Muriithi, 71, broke his leg and sustained serious injuries in his hands.

Since then, he has been waiting in vain for compensation from the US government. After hearing the explosion while at the DoD headquarters at Hurlingham barracks in Nairobi, he hired a taxi to take him to the scene.

Prudence Bushnell, the then-US Ambassador to Kenya being led to safety after the August 7, 1998, blast. [File, Standard]

"After half a kilometre, the driver developed cold feet. I got off the taxi and ran for four-and-a-half kilometres to the US Embassy, reaching there in 11 minutes," he told the Standard.

On reaching the scene, he said, he met a horrible situation and started evacuating and rescuing those who had been trapped after the explosion. "I was in full combat gear so others who joined cooperated with me in the rescue mission,” Muriithi recalled.

After the rescue mission, the solider retreated to his workplace, thinking he could be celebrated for his acts of courage and humanity, only for him to be detained for two days before being charged with being absent without official leave, deserting duties and leaving troops without command and endangering his own life knowingly.

“I was instead punished and lost some of my dues for the four months I was detained,” he said.

One of his bosses asked him what relationship he had with Americans to warrant deserting duty.

After retiring in 2007, he started following up on his compensation in earnest, hoping to receive Sh400 million from the US government for his efforts in the evacuation mission.

Former Kenya Army officer Layfield Muriithi. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

He said the US government at first told him he could not receive compensation because he was not an American soldier, a US Embassy staff, or a US citizen and that he also had no contract with the US.

“That did not stop my push to have the US government compensate me. I’m still in touch with the US through the Department of State and I am optimistic that I will get my dues,” he said.

Among the evidence the British-trained paratrooper hopes will clear the path for his compensation is a US Embassy attack video by AFP in which he is seen holding a water horse pipe extinguishing a fire consuming two US military vehicles.

Muriithi, who was honoured with the Distinguished Service Medal, is an ardent and frequent visitor to the US Embassy every year for commemoration ceremonies.

The responses he gets from the US have always ruled out the possibility of being compensated.

However, he said he would not give up his quest for compensation. He was among the demonstrators at the US Embassy in Nairobi during President Barack Obama's visit to Kenya in 2015. He held a placard asking for special consideration.