A Grim 10-Year Anniversary of the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Africa

With the attacks, al Qaeda emerged as the pre-eminent terrorist threat to the United States.


It was 10 years ago today that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network scored its first direct hit against the United States with the bombing of two U.S. Embassies in Africa.

Twin explosions in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at 10:40 a.m. on Aug. 7, 1998, left more than 220 people dead and some 5,000 injured. As in many subsequent al Qaeda attacks, the bulk of the dead were locals, who just happened to pass by the U.S. Embassy at the wrong time. Twelve Americans were killed in the Nairobi blast.

The attack was notable not only for its brutality but also for al Qaeda's meticulous planning and its ability to pull off the difficult feat of staging nearly simultaneous bombings in two separate countries.

U.S. News chronicled the FBI's exhaustive investigation into the deadly attack, a probe that lost precious hours early on because of mechanical problems with the FBI's plane but eventually involved some 375 agents and crime experts. Many of the operatives were later rounded up and put on trial.

In the wake of the Africa bombings, President Clinton fired more than 70 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan to target a suspected al Qaeda training camp. He missed bin Laden, but an unknown number of al Qaeda followers were killed. He also sent six Tomahawks to destroy what U.S. officials insisted at the time was a chemical weapons plant in Sudan. It later appeared to be a more innocent pharmaceutical factory.

The bombings heralded the emergence of al Qaeda as a serious international threat capable of projecting violence across the globe. Two years later, al Qaeda operatives blasted a hole in the side of a U.S. Navy ship docked in a Yemeni port, killing 17 sailors. And bin Laden struck America directly on Sept. 11, 2001.