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BOMBING CRISIS IN EASTERN AFRICA

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PRESS BRIEFING BY
ACTING SECRETARY OF STATE THOMAS PICKERING,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR ADMINISTRATION PATRICK KENNEDY,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS SUSAN RICE,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR CONSULAR AFFAIRS, MARY RYAN
AND DEPUTY SPOKESMAN JIM FOLEY

Washington, D.C.
August 7, 1998

MR. FOLEY: Welcome to the State Department. You've seen, of course, President Clinton's statement and Secretary Albright's statement here and in Rome. I'd like to report to you that Secretary Albright is currently en route back from overseas to the United States at this moment. She's coming back to confer with the President, to meet with the task force here in the State Department, to meet and confer with her senior advisors and members of the President's national security team. She's in communication, as she has been throughout the day, even while on the airplane, here with Washington with relevant officials.

This is, of course, a very sad day for the State Department and throughout the United States Government. We feel very deeply about the loss of our colleagues, whose names will be added to the plaque of foreign service officers and State Department employees and US diplomats who have given their lives in the service of our country in the 200-plus years of American diplomacy. We also feel deeply the loss of our foreign service nationals in our two posts in East Africa, and to the Kenyans and Tanzanians who lost their lives in these tragic bombings.

I would like to thank the media for their forbearance today. You have a job to do and stories to write, but you've been very understanding of the fact that we here in the State Department are dependent for information on the very people who have been victims of these terrible attacks and who are busy dealing with those attacks, dealing with the human catastrophe, trying to relieve the suffering of the victims. Of course, the State Department itself is very mobilized here dealing with the manifold aspects of the crisis. So you've been very understanding - also of the fact that, given the sensitive nature of these events, that there are areas in the fields of intelligence and security that we're not able to discuss publicly at this time.

Nevertheless, we have brought together a team of senior officials led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering, who's going to lead this briefing for you. He will be ably assisted by three assistant secretaries - Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; Patrick Kennedy, Assistant Secretary for Administration; and Mary Ryan, our Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs -- who will assist Under Secretary Pickering as we entertain your questions following his opening statement.

Ambassador Pickering.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thank you, Jim, very much. Ladies and gentlemen, as President Clinton said just a little while earlier today, the bomb attacks on our embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam are abhorrent and inhumane. Our deep condolences go to the victims and to their families, and particularly those of us who have served together in the foreign service with the American and foreign service nationals who have been lost or injured.

President Clinton and Secretary Albright both referred to the heroic efforts of our embassy staff. Our immediate priority is to assist the wounded and the families of the deceased. However, as President Clinton stressed, we are determined to get the answers and to get justice.

At approximately 10:40 a.m. local time, which was 3:40 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time here in Washington, two explosions a few minutes apart occurred immediately behind and in front of the US Embassy in Nairobi. At the same time, an explosion occurred next to the US Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Both embassy buildings were extensively damaged. They are probably structurally unsound. Given the great damage, casualty figures are necessarily still tentative. However, at this time, we can confirm that eight American deaths in Nairobi, as well as a number of Kenyans killed. Scores are wounded and dozens are still unaccounted for, including possibly still some more embassy employees.

The State Department is coordinating the US Government response through a Department task force which has dispatched already two special teams headed for Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. A US military C-141 has departed Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany with members of an interagency disaster response team which will provide medical assistance. A second Air Force C-141 departed from Andrews Air Force Base at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time carrying additional medical supplies and US personnel to assist in recovery operations. A number of other flights are departing the United States and South Africa bringing medical supplies and personnel and additional disaster response team members who will provide for embassy security and begin evidence recovery efforts. There is a special flight coming from the Middle East to provide additional security to the embassies concerned.

Our immediate priority is to assist the casualties and their families, and at the same time we are taking steps to insure embassy security. We are committed to bring to justice those responsible, as the President has said and as I said in my opening remarks. We're now ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Islamic Ji'had issued a statement as recently as Wednesday threatening to avenge the arrests of a number of their people. They say the US was responsible for these arrests, three of which occurred - or took place in Albania over the past several weeks. Do you have any comment on that view? Do you suspect a link between that and what happened today; or do you have any comment at all on who might be responsible?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I want to say two things, George, in response to that. One is that we get some 30,000 threats a year of one form or another. We take them all seriously; we look at them all in depth; and clearly, we treat them all as extremely important. Secondly, this is now a matter, as Jim has told you, for law enforcement investigation. Law enforcement investigation and intelligence items, as you know, are the kinds of subjects that we don't talk about and can't talk about from this podium until, in fact, we have a conclusion or something that is brought to conclusion to tell you. We'll have to be guided by those rules as my colleagues, who have also been talking to you today, have similarly been guided by those rules.

QUESTION: But we don't know, Mr. Pickering, the people who did the bombing at Khobar Towers, so how confident are you that we will find the people who are responsible?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: That, too, remains under investigation; and I have to tell you we will be relentless and persevering. For those of you who have been around as long as I have, you know that we have a long series of cases - some many years old - which I'm happy to say have been brought to fruition in recent years. So I don't believe that anyone should assume that the US Government will ever give up on these cases or that, in fact, the failure to make immediate progress in some is an indication somehow that we are not going to bring the appropriate result and bring people to justice wherever they may be and under whatever circumstances they may have tried to kill or maim or injure Americans and others who are associated with us.

QUESTION: Can you say which explosion happened first - the one in Nairobi or the one in Dar Es Salaam?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I'll have to turn to Pat. Do you know, Pat? Pat, come on up here.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: We think there was about a three or four minute separation, with the first one in Dar at approximately 3:40 and the second one in Nairobi at 3:45 local time.

QUESTION: Did you receive any warnings for either of these bombings?

ASSISTANT SECRTARY KENNEDY: There was no - in other words, there was no telephone call to the embassy minutes before saying anything was going to happen, no.

QUESTION: Have you received any other warnings for embassies in Africa? Sources close to us have said that the embassy in Uganda has received a warning in Kampala. I'm wondering what you have to say about that.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I was going to say in response to that, I said we received 30,000 a year. There is a kind of copy-cat pattern which sets in. I'm not going to confirm whether specific embassies received specific warnings. But I am telling you we take every one of them seriously. We have adopted a very tight security posture with respect to our embassies. As you know, we have issued a caution notice to Americans traveling.

QUESTION: What is happening now with the embassies? I know you can't go into too much detail, but how would you describe the sort of steeping up of security now? What is happening in embassies in Africa and abroad?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Again, without tipping our hand, perhaps Pat might want to talk about some of the kind of typical things that we do either on a regular basis or on an extraordinary basis.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: The State Department, as many of you know, maintains Marine security guard detachments, regional security officers, local guard forces and does liaison with local police at all our 260 facilities around the world. We're always, in effect, in a state of alert. Obviously, when something like this terrible tragedy happens, we immediately contact all embassies, all our security personnel to make sure they're aware of it, and to, even if you can take something that is almost always at heightened state of alert and carry it to a state even beyond that. That is what we've done in a situation like this.

I'm not going to go into any details about what specific measures we may or may not take, because there are people that watch you that I wouldn't want to hear that.

QUESTION: Can you give us any more detail on how this actually happened? You said there were two bombs in Nairobi - one in the front, one in the back. Can you provide any more detail on what actually happened?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Steve, if I were able to, I would. It is part of the ongoing effort to try to determine it. Our first priority has been human life and safety, dealing with the injured and trying to rescue people. We remain in that phase in Nairobi. So as we sort this out, I think we will be able to give you a better response to those questions. But I can't carry it beyond that now.

QUESTION: There's a report out of Nairobi that one person who is reported to be an Arab-speaking person was taken into custody there. Are you knowledgeable about that? Can you have any comment on that?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I'm aware of the report, I think, from the same source that you are. I don't have any comment to offer. We don't know anything further about it. I guess if the report said they were taken into local custody, that would be an appropriate place to look.

QUESTION: Tom, you say the death toll now in Nairobi is eight. How many remain unaccounted for?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I can't give you an exact figure; but I can tell you that we have a number perhaps slightly smaller than that that we believe remain unaccounted for and we're trying to clear that up as soon as we can, Jim.

QUESTION: Were these car bombs?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I can't even confirm that at this stage. Our investigation goes on; we are still trying to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy. There are some people who have said that, but we haven't been able to confirm it. There are some indications that that may be the case, but I can't tell you. I've just recently talked to our charge in Dar Es Salaam. We are trying to confirm what they were but we are not able to do that yet.

QUESTION: Two bombs in the same building almost simultaneously suggests some form of organization - this is more than just a couple of guys with a grudge. Would you agree with that assumption?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think this the first time that we have had two such coordinated explosions; and I would agree with your assumption that it obviously required planning, and we're looking at that as part of our investigative efforts.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: The latest information we have with respect to casualty figures in addition to the eight dead in Nairobi are six missing and unaccounted for and 14 in hospital. Pat, do you want to --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: One of the questions - Under Secretary Pickering talked about two bombs. It wasn't two bombs in Nairobi; it was two bombs - one in Nairobi, one in Dar Es Salaam, not --

QUESTION: He said earlier, "in front of and behind" the facility in Nairobi - I think that's what may have led to the impression.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: It's two entrances - side entrance and a main entrance, and so it was either the front the embassy or the side of the embassy. He was trying to be geographically specific.

QUESTION: So one bomb in Nairobi, to be absolutely clear?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Were these embassies modified or fortified at all in response to the 1986 Diplomatic Security Act or for any other reason?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Both of these embassies were constructed - one was constructed by us, Nairobi, the other is leased by us - long before the Inman Act took place. We have taken steps during that period to strengthen the perimeter of the facility, but in terms of totally tearing the building down and rebuilding it according to the hardened standards -

QUESTION: You mean the standards you would have if you were building an embassy now?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: These buildings -- one was constructed in 1980, the other was constructed many years before that.

QUESTION: On the casualties, there's been a report that one was an adolescent dependent of someone that worked at the embassy; is that true? And when do you expect the names of the victims to be released?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I can't confirm either the nature - if I could put it that way - it's indelicate - but the character of the victims yet or the names. As soon as we're able to do that - and that requires notification processes we have to go through - we'll be able to do that for you.

QUESTION: Ambassador, was there any advance notification or any advance warning that these bombings might take place? And were these embassies bomb-proofed or are all embassies bomb-proofed?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Let me first say that Pat has answered the first question by saying we had no telephone ringing before that happened; but we're not going to go into further detail on that because of the law enforcement aspects.

Pat, I think, also answered the second question by saying that these were embassies that would not meet today's current security standards.

QUESTION: What about other embassies around the world? Are they bomb-proof?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: We have a large number that have more resistance. Bomb-proof is a relative term - tell me what size bomb, and I'll tell you what the proof is. Having dealt with this in many places, obviously, a bigger bomb makes a bigger problem, and smaller bombs are less of a problem; so that's a relative thing.

We have a set of standards which we believe deals with most of the difficulties, if not all, that we could expect to face. It is clear that these two buildings would not meet our current building standards.

QUESTION: From what I understand, the embassy in Dar Es Salaam is in a somewhat residential area in a mansion which could, if someone were to drive up with a bomb or come near it, they could be identified or spotted because it's not as crowded as the embassy in Nairobi. Can you comment on that?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Yes, I have served in Dar Es Salaam. That embassy was not our building at my time, but I know it very well because it existed at the time I was there. It was the embassy of another country at that time. That is in a residential area. The fact that six people were killed and 74 injured would indicate that there were people within range of that bomb. But at the moment, we haven't been able, in our look, to determine any more details. We will be looking at that through the investigative process. But I had asked that question myself, and we haven't got yet an answer. The folks have been busy, of course, doing a lot of other things.

QUESTION: When you mentioned that this was the first time we've had two coordinated bombings, do you mean that this is the first time two American targets have been bombed simultaneously? I'm trying to figure out if you see a difference between double-bombings in the past, like in Beirut or in Kuwait, when one American target and another target that was not an American target -

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No, I was talking about two American targets in separated cities. Again, I put a caveat on that - someone may turn up an instance and certainly I don't mean this to be totally dispositive at this point. This, in terms of our quick recollection, is the only circumstance that we know of where coordinated attacks in different countries against American embassies - apparently coordinated attacks.

QUESTION: What was the US role in extraditing Albanian terrorists, which has come up in discussion of who's to blame for this?

MR. FOLEY: That's not something that we can discuss in a public forum. It falls under the rubric that I discussed earlier, and so we'll have to leave it at that; I'm sorry.

QUESTION: I wanted to go back, for Mr. Pickering or you, to the - is the United States worried that this may be the ripplings of some terrorist attacks at home domestically; that this might penetrate the United States and is the beginnings of something over here? What have you done on the domestic level in light of these bombings in Africa?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: We're concerned, obviously, about any terrorist incidents and the fact that they may lead to other terrorist incidents. We have taken the whole series of steps. This Department's responsibilities extend outside the United States, and so we have described and talked about some of those, including, as Assistant Secretary Kennedy said, putting our embassies on alert; cautioning Americans; issuing specific notices with respect to Kenya and Tanzania in the light of these events.

I know that the domestic agencies have also been involved in examining this incident. But I think you will have to turn to them for their assessment and the steps that they're taking with respect to domestic United States activities.

QUESTION: Do you have any reports to confirm the early media reports of a fire fight in Nairobi that preceded the bomb?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No.

QUESTION: Can I get a clarification, if I might? Pat, earlier you said that the first bomb went off in Dar Es Salaam. That contradicts almost all of the reporting that we've seen so far today. Is all of that mistaken?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: What we have is notifications to our operations center. We got a call from Dar, talking about an incident at 3:40, and a call from Nairobi saying it happened at 3:45. Since the embassy communications were damaged and these calls were coming in from alternate locations that the embassy personnel was using, it is entirely possible that someone's watch was plus or minus three or four minutes. They were almost simultaneous. We logged in the reports as I indicated - 3:40 a.m. our time for Dar and 3:45 a.m. for Nairobi; literally almost simultaneously.

QUESTION: That's when the calls were received here, but not necessarily -

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KENNEDY: No, no, they said at - the calls were logged in a few minutes after that. They said at 3:40 and at 3:45.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, considering that US relations with the Kenyan Government and with the Tanzanian Government are considerably good for the African continent, why do you think these two embassies were targeted?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I really believe that speculation about why terrorists choose particular American embassies is totally in that realm. If we can find them, we'll ask them. But I don't believe, at this stage, we are reading anything special into the choice of these until we get further down the investigative process, examine all the intelligence and assess where we are. We're not there yet; we're only beginning, obviously, because of the time we've had to do it, to go through that process.

So I don't have an answer. Terrorists tend to want to be unpredictable. There may be some of that in this.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, the lack of a firm and credible claim of responsibility is interesting; and it was true of Khobar Towers, too. Are there other similarities that you see here? I mean, is this some new phase of terrorism; and why would it be sensible for a group not to take responsibility?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Steve, we have to take into account - or Mr. Erlanger, I'm sorry - we have to take into account all of these particular issues. The lack of a bona fide claimant up until now, at least picking up on your question, where there may be in another case doesn't mean all cases are linked or put together. I'd be cautious about reasoning from that kind of an analogy. I fall back on my mantra: we're looking at it; it is a law enforcement investigation; it will involve all of the resources we can bring to bear on it. We are not there yet; we are earnestly and ardently pursuing that. And obviously if and when we get to the bottom of this - and I hope that will be soon - we'll be filling you in on where we are.

QUESTION: Ambassador Pickering, does the embassy in Nairobi still serve a dual function of also being the headquarters of the embassy staff for Khartoum; and is that in any way significant? And a second question if I could - do you fault intelligence gathering at all in these bombings?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Let me go ahead and do the first one - no, I don't. We have, I think, an absolutely top-class intelligence community that works extremely hard, that examines a huge amount of information. But that doesn't mean that you catch every incident or every event, particularly when people work very hard to keep you from finding out what's going on. So I would not, in this case, believe that we are subjects of intelligence failure, which I think is where your question was taking this particular issue; but we will certainly look very, very carefully into all aspects of this. I can't give you anything more at this stage.

QUESTION: How about the other question?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: While we maintain embassy operations in Khartoum, American personnel were moved a couple of years ago on a continuous basis and then removed and based in Nairobi. So the charge and the staff of Embassy Khartoum are based in Nairobi; they travel regularly to Khartoum and try to maintain a more less continuous presence overlapping in Khartoum.

QUESTION: Could that possibly be of any significance here?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: No reason to believe it so at this time.

QUESTION: Could I ask about the family or consular aspects - about notification and when - how many families have been notified and when the public will be made aware of those who are victims?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: All the casualties are official US Government personnel, and we are in the process of notifying the families who were not - next of kin who were not in Nairobi. There have been no private American citizens, to our knowledge, hurt or killed in either place. So consular notification, which my bureau would do, of course we're not doing because we have no information about private Americans.

MR. FOLEY: We'll take one or two more questions.

QUESTION: Would you describe if there was anything significant about today; or if there wasn't anything significant about today's date, describe what was going on at these two embassies at ten or so in the morning - what was going on when these bombs went off?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: We'll have to get that reconstructed for you. My knowledge of embassy work is fairly deep, and I don't think that the time of the day necessarily determines any particular set of activities. I'm not aware of any particular importance of today's date.

QUESTION: Were there any events going on, any gatherings?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Nothing that I know of in the countries concerned.

QUESTION: You alluded earlier to some recent successes in closing old investigative files. Could you spell those out?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think that I would like to have Jim put together a list, which is now something which we're working with the Justice Department on, and we'll try to get that to you as soon as it's ready. Jim may want to talk about some of them.

MR. FOLEY: Yes. I could just add that P.J. Crowley at the White House addressed some of those specifically in his briefing a few hours ago. He mentioned the terrorist attack at the CIA a few years ago in which the suspect was apprehended and tried here in this country --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Some of the World Trade suspects --

MR. FOLEY: -- and the World Trade Tower bombing suspects also were brought back and brought to justice, and we can put together that information for you. But as I said, it was addressed earlier. We'll take one more question.

QUESTION: Is it correct that when President Clinton went to Africa, the reason he did not go to Kenya and Tanzania had nothing to do with security concerns?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RICE: Nothing to do with security concerns.

MR. FOLEY: Just before closing, I'd just like to say that some of you are interested in Secretary Albright's arrival. It's going to be in the wee hours of the morning; I can't give you an exact time of arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. I believe that those of you who want to cover her arrival by camera, in any event, will have an opportunity to do so. We can verify for you a little later in the Press Office when that will be. It's my understanding that it is her intention, even though it will be in the middle of the night, to proceed directly to the State Department to pay a visit to the task force that we have up on the seventh floor - the people working directly on this crisis and to confer with them before heading home.

Thank you very much.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Jim, I had one correction of one item. Susan tells me that we have more recent information from Dar Es Salaam, and instead of the six killed that I had given you earlier, the number is now five.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary - that seems to be a long time in the air. Does she have an intermediate stop?

MR. FOLEY: Yes, yes, I believe she's either refueling or changing airplanes - I'm not sure - in Iceland en route home. We'll give you the exact time in the Press Office.

Thank you.

[End of Document]

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