Nairobi residents grapple with new violence

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 6 (UPI) -- Fadhlasid Said, a university student, was in a matatu, one of Nairobi’s notoriously crowded public buses, late last month when the vehicle began to shake.

“I heard a thud on the top of the matatu,” the student said.

At first, he said he thought the sound was caused by bus operators changing the route sign.

“It wasn’t until I saw a woman running toward the van, fazed, with her face half-covered in soot that I noticed it was actually an explosion,” he said.

The explosion rocked Nairobi’s central business district just after 1 p.m. on a busy Monday. One person has been confirmed dead, while 38 others were injured.

Nairobi has enjoyed relative calm in recent decades, even as neighboring Somalia and other countries in the region experienced more violence. But the past few years have brought bloodshed and uncertainty.

Life in the Kenyan capital was upended in late 2007 and early 2008, when elections led to violent ethnic disputes that left more than 1,200 people dead. The International Criminal Court is hearing cases against four prominent politicians who prosecutors say orchestrated the bloodshed.

The city returned to calm after that violence, but things are heating up again, this time for different reasons. Al Shabaab, the Somali militant group, claimed responsibility for a grenade attack at a Nairobi bus station in March that killed six people and injured dozens. In April, another grenade attack killed one person at a church in the city. Even so, Kenyans reacted angrily when a CNN report on the bus station attack included a banner headline that read, "Violence in Kenya." CNN officials later apologized for the headline.

Now, Al Shabaab militants have threatened to target Nairobi's tallest buildings with bombs.

Residents say last month's bomb could herald a new season of destruction.

"I was in the kitchen, about to have lunch,” Sameer Jiva said of last month's incident. “We have the floor-to-ceiling windows. Suddenly, I heard this loud explosion. I instinctively rushed to the window. It was then that I saw debris catapult into the air, as a building beside Mount Kenya University had smoke emanating from it.”

No one dared go toward the scene of the blast, he said.

"I feared that the initial blast was to attract the crowd, before a possible second blast to actually do the real damage,” he said.

Police have yet to make any arrests in the incident but it is widely believed that the bomb was detonated by at least two people of either German or Turkish citizenship.

"Every time there is calm in the country, a blast occurs, reminding us we still are not safe," said Linda Masinde. "We cannot live like this, knowing somewhere in the back of our minds we ourselves could fall victims to explosions."

Pauline Nsai, who works in an industrial area in the outskirts of the city, said she was on her way to work when the most recent attack occurred.

"I myself wanted to go back to work but wanted to get a quick bite," she said. "No sooner than a minute after I passed the building (where the blast occurred,) I heard a loud bang, followed by metal flying my way. Soon there was smoke and a lot of commotion."

Had she passed just a moment earlier, Pauline said, she could have died.

"This place is becoming worse day by day," she said. "The government needs to wake up and focus on Kenya's security rather than their extending their stay in office."