It is strange that the world press has completely forgotten the first nights of terror in Kenya, a country that suffered more from terrorism than any where except the epicenter of terror in the Middle East. I have never seen one foreign newspaper report that recalls the terror that heralded the New Year in 1981 or the aborted missile launch from Nairobi City Park in 1976.
Yet the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) operatives caught that night in Nairobi City Park were the ancestors of those who later hatched the audacious acts of terror in Nairobi in 1998 and again on September 11th, 2001, in New York City.
If the world had paid attention to the plight of the Palestinians then, we would have avoided 9/11 and much of the violence which followed it. Now the frustration had mushroomed from Palestine throughout the Muslim world. American and European campus radicals and anti-global activists have taken up the cause of the Palestinians which could lead to home grown varieties of terrorism, and the war in Iraq is a magnet for a new generation of terrorists in the Middle East.
In a more familiar act of terrorism in 1998, a car bomb demolished the US embassy in downtown Nairobi, and badly damaged Nairobi’s own “Twin Towers”, the Cooperative Bank House which happened to be next door.
Hundreds of innocent Kenyans were blinded by shattering glass and many others lost their lives in that explosion. This tragedy is always covered by journalists reporting about the explosions in what was the Paradise of Kenya. In an act of outrageous bravado, the terrorists also blew up the US embassy in neighboring Tanzania, just to make sure the world got the message.
The US reaction to the twin explosions in East African was unorganized and timid. It took the nightmare of the twin towers explosion on US soil to galvanize the Americans, to instill the fear of terrorists in their minds and hearts.
World reaction in early 2003 was completely different than in 1980! In 1981, there was hardly a ripple in the flow of tourists to Kenya due to the tragedy at the Norfolk Hotel. There was only a bit of inconvenience in finding alternative rooms for those booked in the wing of the hotel that had disappeared.
However, in the post 9/11 world of 2003, the reaction was one of near hysteria. When a Kenyan Minister announced the possibility that terrorists were still on Kenya soil, and were suspected of filming airports and other Kenyan installations, reaction was swift. Kenya and its recovering tourism industry were completely written off.
British Airways announced it would immediately suspend all flights to Kenya on the fateful day of May 20th, 2003. This would have never happened in 1981 or 1998. This is the new reality.
Following 9/11, there were “Mercy Flights” to New York to bring money and support to those in need, but there was no mercy shown to Kenya in its hour of need.