Nairobi — A string of deadly terrorist attacks that struck Nairobi and Mombasa at the weekend left at least six victims dead, scores wounded and Kenyan citizens wondering if the country's security forces will ever be able to stem the growing problem of insecurity.
On Sunday evening (May 4th) simultaneously timed bombs ripped through two buses travelling toward Githurai and Mwiki estates on Nairobi's busy Thika highway, leaving three dead and 62 injured, said Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government spokesman Mwenda Njoka.
According to AFP, 20 of the injured -- mostly women and children -- are in critical condition.
On Saturday (May 3rd), assailants hurled a grenade into a packed bus in Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa, killing three and injuring 20, Mombasa County police commander Robert Kitur told Sabahi. The bus had just arrived from Nairobi, and the attack occurred at a bus stop in Mwembe Tayari.
Also on Saturday, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated on a path leading to the beach near the Reef Hotel in Nyali. No one was injured in that blast.
Police spokeswoman Zipporah Gatiria Mboroki told Sabahi that preliminary investigations indicated that IEDs were also the cause of the explosions in Nairobi and that police are looking for two male passengers who apparently got off one of the buses just before they left the city centre.
According to some passenger reports, the suspects checked one bag and boarded the bus but did not take a seat, she said. Since it is illegal to stand on a bus, once all the seats were taken, the two individuals were asked by the driver's assistant to get off the bus and wait for the next one.
"I am told they obliged without arguments," Mboroki said.
When the men got off the bus, witnesses said, they did not claim their luggage. However, Mboroki said the bus driver's assistant could not corroborate the witnesses' account and did not remember if the men ever checked in a bag.
"We suspect the assailants used a mobile phone to trigger the IED in these buses because crime scene experts have recovered mobile phone fragments, a SIM card and pellets" Mboroki said. "The IEDs appear to have been hidden in the buses' luggage [trunk]."
"Police are doing everything within their means to stop these terror attacks," she said. "However, I urge the vehicle crews to thoroughly screen all motorists and their luggage before embarking on a journey. It may take long to do this but it is better to be home late than never."
No group has claimed responsibility for the weekend's attacks, but supporters of al-Shabaab are suspected.
On Monday, Deputy President William Ruto said Kenya will not be intimidated by terrorists and will not withdraw troops from Somalia.
"The government will not allow terrorists to dictate or blackmail us into changing our local or foreign policy," he told reporters. "We will not withdraw until Somalia has a stable and secure government free from terror."
He said recalling Kenyan troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia would create a safe haven for al-Shabaab, which would pose an even greater security threat to Kenya and the entire region.
"Our collective security is a shared responsibility; every person must play his or her part in maintaining unwavering vigilance," Ruto said. "All arms of government must play their full part and every citizen must also fulfil their patriotic obligations."
Spiraling out of control
"We are tired of empty promises that the [government] is in control and its habit of security officials issuing threats when incidents occur, and then the pattern repeats itself," said Isabel Mwihaki, 27, a public relations student at Griffins College who was at the Thika blast site.
"When will this madness ever end?" said David Wangwe, 56, a father of three and a carpenter in Githurai.
"My wife has been badly injured on her left leg. I wonder what crime has she committed to deserve the life-changing injuries she has sustained," he said, wiping away tears.
Wangwe was among hundreds of family members and friends gathered Sunday evening at Uhai Neema Hospital, where most of victims were rushed.
"Most of injuries are critical. Indeed, we have five children who are badly injured on their faces, hands and legs. We will transport them to Kenyatta National Hospital," Antonio Milito, a doctor at Uhai Neema Hospital, told Sabahi.
"I am afraid these attacks are spreading faster and the government seems unable to contain them," said Rose Nyambura, 21, a student at United States International University, adding that her neighbor and 11-year-old son are among the injured.
Nyambura wondered how terrorists had the organisational capability and confidence to plant explosives in two different buses and trigger them off at almost the same time without the government having ability to detect and thwart them.
"It simply means [the government] is incapable of guaranteeing our security," she told Sabahi.
At Roysambu, the scene of the second bus bombing near Thika Mall, residents and the business community expressed fear that terrorism had arrived at their doorstep.
"We are just local poor people struggling to make a living. I never expected matatus of all places to be legitimate terrorist targets," said Justus Kito, a 36-year old newspaper vendor. "I support the military and their efforts to restore security in Somalia, but our police seem unable to restore the same here."
"I used to park my taxi next to the [Thika] mall waiting for shoppers, but since last month, the management kicked [out] all taxis from here for security reasons," said 40-year-old taxi driver Henry Simiyu. "This means I do not attract as many shoppers as before since I am parked almost 300 metres from the mall. I am afraid the bus bombing will scare shoppers and this spells more financial doom for us."
Going after masterminds, financiers
"The country cannot continue to lose human life at this rate," said Ken Kinyua, sales manager at Vila Rosa Kempinski Hotels.
"If today's attacks are anything to go by, then [they indicate that] the security swoop which was meant to rid our country of terror masterminds, especially in urban centres, has failed," he said. "Unless there is a change of tact, I foresee the prospect for the security situation and the human toll becoming pretty grim."
"Haphazardly done and un-co-ordinated [security] sweeps may not necessarily nail terror masterminds," Kinyua said, adding that police should conduct more thorough investigations and target the real criminals.
Joel Omoto, 29, a cashier at Ando Africa Restaurant in Mombasa, said certain security measures, such as screening passengers, could help reduce the risk of these types of attacks, but the public will remain vulnerable until the police discover the source of the explosives.
"I know terrorism can strike at any time," he said, "but the government should identify who the financiers and suppliers of IEDs and grenades are and go after them -- rather than issuing strongly-worded statements of assurances after an attack."