WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 29, 2012, 09:01 AM

Fertilizer bomb suspected in Nairobi blast

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A fertilizer bomb could have caused the blast that ripped through a building full of small shops, an official told The Associated Press on Tuesday, as the FBI joined the investigation.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A fertilizer bomb could have caused the blast that ripped through a building full of small shops, an official told The Associated Press on Tuesday, as the FBI joined the investigation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the smell of ammonia at the scene of Monday's explosion on Moi Avenue indicates the possible presence of a fertilizer bomb, which is commonly made of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

Among the 33 people wounded was a woman who blamed the blast on a "bearded man" who left behind a bag shortly before the detonation.

FBI agents helped analyze the blast site at Kenya's request, said John Haynes, a U.S. Embassy spokesman. A group of FBI agents could be seen at the site of the explosion sifting through debris and packing samples with members of Kenya's Anti-Terror Police Unit.

The intelligence firm IntelCenter said militants from the al-Qaida-linked Somali group al-Shabab bragged about acting as journalists and conducting interviews of survivors after the blast. IntelCenter said the development poses significant challenges to security forces and legitimate members of the media covering attacks.

The explosion sent dark smoke billowing out of a one-story building on the downtown avenue named after Kenya's second president. The blast peeled back the front corner of the building's aluminum roof, shattered windows in the building and scattered shoes, clothes and other wares on the ground. A high-rise building with a glass exterior next door was largely untouched.

Tuesday's explosion follows several grenade attacks the Kenyan government has blamed on the al-Qaida-linked Somalia militant group al-Shabab. At least 40 civilians have been killed in the grenade attacks since October, which police attribute to Kenyan sympathizers of al-Shabab.

At the site of the explosion on Tuesday, some Kenyans expressed anger over what they said was the police's inability to protect them against the attacks. Marketing Consultant Lucas Okwany, 46, said many Kenyan police officers are more interested in collecting bribes than carrying out police duties.

"I am scared because in marketing you have to go into all these buildings to look for work, and any of them could now be a target," he said.

Kenya's police force is constrained by poor resources and low pay, which fuels the bribe-seeking. Few police in Kenya have cars, and those who do are given little fuel.

The rising insecurity in Kenya has also impacted the hotel business. Hotel workers, who could not give their names for fear of losing their jobs, say that hotel rooms are lying empty because business travelers have been scared away by the attacks.

Mike Macharia, the chief executive of the Kenya Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, said there has been a drop in bookings but that hotels can still recover with the help of aggressive marketing and increased security.

Al-Shabab threatened in October to bring down Nairobi skyscrapers and referenced the July 2010 bomb attacks they masterminded in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76 people. Al-Shabab issued the threat against Kenya after Kenyan troops moved into Somalia to attack al-Shabab fighters.

One shop worker wounded in the blast, Irene Wachira, said from her hospital bed on Monday that a bearded man came to a nearby stall three times and acted as if he were interested in buying something. Wachira said the third time he came with a bag that he left behind. The blast occurred shortly afterward, she said.

Wachira described the man as "Arabic-looking" because of his relatively light skin. A doctor told AP that another person wounded in the blast said a Somali-looking man left behind the bag. The doctor said he could not be quoted by name.

Al-Shabab has not yet made any public comment on the attack.

Police officials first indicated that Monday's explosion could have been caused by some sort of electrical malfunction but the prime minister said it was deliberate.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.