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Nairobi Bombings Are A Sign Of Spreading Militant Influence

TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

Let's move on to Kenya now, where on Friday a pair of bombs exploded at a market in the capital, Nairobi. Ten people were killed, at least 70 wounded. The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya has asked for more security for the embassy. The British government evacuated its citizens from the resort town of Mombasa in response to what it said were reports of a planned attack there by Islamic extremists. NPR's Africa correspondent Gregory Warner joins us now. Hi, Gregory.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Hi, Tess.

VIGELAND: These are now the first terror incidents in Kenya recently. What do we know about these bombs and what can you tell us about the ongoing security situation there?

WARNER: Well, on Friday there were two bombs and one was placed in a public bus that was dropping people off at a very large downtown market in Nairobi called Gikomba. The other bomb was in the market itself and these were timed so that people rushing to help victims of one explosion would be caught up in the next one.

This totals about a dozen explosions in Nairobi over the past eight months, many using a very similar MO, where a bomb is placed in a public bus or a grenade is tossed inside a bus. At times when people have claimed credit for these it's been al-Shabab, which is a militant group based in Somalia.

VIGELAND: Now, the U.S. and Britain have both issued travel alerts for Kenya. And there were some new warnings about the possibility of attacks this week. What is the Kenyan government's reaction to those warnings?

WARNER: Well, Kenya always, always has a beef with any Western travel warnings. They always feel that these are used to punish African countries rather than protecting Western citizens. Sometimes the timing of these warnings does allow for that interpretation. In this case, it's not just a warning. As you said, the U.S. embassy is asking for more support. They're also reducing the number of staff, and this is the largest U.S. embassy in the region.

Two large British tourism companies just cancelled all flights to Mombasa until October. This is at a time when Kenya's tourism industry is just trying to get over the hit at Westgate Mall. This was this upscale mall that was hit last September. And it's interesting, if you look at Westgate Mall, that as a very deadly attack aimed at foreigners and upscale Kenyans. The most recent attacks have been aimed at public buses, markets.

But the fear is, all these small explosions, if you'll call them that, heightens the sectarian tension in Kenya between Somalis and Kenyans, between Muslims and Christians. And that's making Kenya feel a lot more dangerous.

VIGELAND: Gregory, elsewhere on the continent of course, the group Boko Haram is still holding hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls; this story that has captured the world's attention. I wonder, does this signal that Africa really is a growing epicenter of terrorism?

WARNER: I think there is a shift. Boko Haram started as a domestic insurgency and then you have the war against terror in Mali. All of a sudden all these militants, jihadist and terrorist know-how is coming over from Mali into Northern Nigeria. And most recently, there's been a report that Boko Haram has now attacked over the border, committed another abduction at a Chinese-owned gas plant in Cameroon.

And just this week in Paris at a security conference there, the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called Boko Haram an al-Qaida operation in West Africa. That is what he called it, however, there's a fair amount of evidence that al-Qaida is not very happy with Boko Haram's recent antics, kidnapping schoolgirls, firing on Muslims as they're praying. Clearly, not everyone is following the same script but they are trading militants, they are trading know-how. And Africa has increasingly become a haven for them.

VIGELAND: NPR's Africa correspondent Gregory Warner. Thank you and stay safe.

WARNER: Thanks, Tess. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.
Tess Vigeland
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