, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 10 – At least three people were killed and scores of others injured when multiple grenade explosions rocked downtown Nairobi moments after 8pm on Saturday.
Witnesses said the three died on the spot while about 20 people were wheeled into ambulances and rushed to hospital as rescue teams rushed to the scene of the attacks.
The witnesses also claim that the grenades were hurled out of a moving vehicle popularly known as pro-box (make Toyota)
“I just saw a vehicle pass and then someone just threw things that exploded,” witness Charles Njenga said.
“Many people have been injured,” he added.
“I survived because I was in a bus that was still loading people.”
A senior police official who did not want to be named said it was believed that one or several grenades had been thrown at the bus station.
Deputy Police Spokesman Charles Owino immediately linked the incident to members of the Al Shabaab, which Kenya is fighting in neighbouring lawless Somalia.
“This can not be a normal incident, this is a cowardly act by elements of Al Shabaab. But this will not affect our war on the militant group. We will be cowed at all,” Owino said at the scene.
“We have been able to confirm three deaths and 21 other people have been injured and taken to hospital,” the deputy police spokesman said.
The explosions occurred at three separate spots within the congested bus terminus as city residents rushed to catch buses to upcountry and city estate destinations.
Two people died at the scene of the explosion while the third died at a gas station, nearly half a kilometer from the main scene.
“I saw a man running and he had blood all over, and he collapsed and could not stand up anymore, when we went to check we realized that he had died,” a motor cyclist Reuben Otela who witnessed the incident said.
There were fears the death toll could rise, but police and hospital sources maintained only three people had died by Saturday evening.
Area MP Yusuf Hassan immediately condemned the attacks as cowardly.
“This is a mindless, cowardly and thoughtless act,” the Kamukunji MP said.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta has sent his sympathies to relatives and friends of the victims.
“I would like to express my deepest condolences and sympathies to those who have been injured or lost loved ones in today’s gruesome and cowardly blasts at Machakos Country Bus Station. I pray that God comforts you and gives you strength during this difficult time,” he said.
It is the first such incident in the Kenyan capital since two grenade attacks carried out within 24 hours of each other late last October killed one person and injured 30 others.
A Kenyan supporter of Somalia’s Islamist Al Shabaab fighters was arrested soon afterwards and was convicted after having confessed to the attacks.
The Shabaab have on several occasions threatened reprisal attacks against Kenya since it sent its troops over the border into southern Somalia in mid-October to fight the group.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks.
The attacks possibly linked to the Al Shabaab militia came barely hours after an offensive in Somalia left tens of Ethiopians troops and militants dead.
In the Somalia attacks, fighting was said to have lasted three hours, according to independent witnesses.
“The fighting around the village of Yurkut was the most intense since Ethiopian forces entered Somalia” in November, said one of the witnesses in the country’s southwestern region, Abukar Moalim Yarow.
Military sources in both camps gave differing tolls but stressed the fierceness of the fighting, which lasted three hours, according to independent witnesses.
“The mujahideen fighters led their most important military incursion against enemy positions in Yurkut,” Sheikh Mohamed Abu-Fatma, a top Shabaab commander in the sector, told AFP by telephone.
“We forced the enemy to temporarily abandon three barracks and we killed more than 40 of their men,” he added.
Kalif Adan, a pro-government official, told AFP from Baidoa that the Shabaab “attacked Yurkut this morning. Many of them were killed in fierce fighting.
“The fighting is now over and (the Shabaab) have been heavily beaten.”
The hardline Shabaab attacked Ethiopian positions in Yurkut, near the strategic town of Luuq, on the road linking the Somalia-Ethiopia border with Baidoa, a former rebel bastion in southern Somalia which Ethiopian forces recaptured last month.
Somalia has been plagued by a relentless conflict since the 1991 ouster of President Mohamed Siad Barre.
In February Somali and world leaders met in London for a conference aimed at finding solutions to the Horn of Africa country’s protracted crisis that has spawned piracy, militancy and a devastating humanitarian crisis.
The attack was typical of the Islamists’ new strategy of guerrilla warfare against enemy rear bases after being forced out of fixed positions in urban areas by pro-government foreign forces.
Yurkut is a key position on the supply line for Ethiopian forces in Baidoa.
As well as the Ethiopians, who wrested Baidoa and Beledweyne, northwest of Mogadishu, from them, the Shabaab rebels are under pressure from an African Union force of Ugandan and Burundian troops which ousted them from the capital Mogadishu and Kenyan troops who entered Somalia from the south in October.
The Kenyan army, which since last month has been part of the African Union force, said Saturday it had launched at least five land and air attacks in the past week on Shabaab fighters still active behind its lines some 15-20 kilometres (8-12 miles) from the Somali-Kenya border.
“These are pockets of remnants of Al-Shabaab that have been left behind and their main purpose is to try to disrupt our activities in that area and cause disharmony between our forces and the local communities,” military spokesman Colonel Cyrus Oguna said.
“This calls for continued pacification operations until the time that we are certain that the area is stable enough,” Oguna said.