June 11, 2007 / 11:37 AM / 12 years ago

Kenyan rush-hour blast kills one, hurts 37

NAIROBI (Reuters) - An apparent bomb blast in a Nairobi street on Monday killed one person, injured dozens and left a severed leg hanging from a shattered window.

Plainclothes police investigators search for evidence at a blast site in Nairobi June 11, 2007. A blast in central Nairobi killed at least one person on Monday and police on the scene said they believed it could have been a suicide bombing. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

A senior policeman at the scene said the explosion, which also left a mangled corpse in the street and sent passersby flying through the air, appeared to be a suicide bombing.

“This sort of attack is very unusual for Nairobi,” he said.

Witnesses saw a man with a package running down the road moments before the blast at around 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), and said the body they saw after the blast was his.

Although considered a relatively peaceful country in a volatile region, Kenya was hit by large bomb blasts in 1998 and 2002 that were blamed on al Qaeda.

Kenyan police said in a statement they were “pursuing promising leads,” and local media said a taxi driver thought to have ferried the attacker was among more than a dozen witnesses helping officers with their enquiries.

Suspicion could fall on militant Islamists from neighboring Somalia or members of the criminal Mungiki gang that has been wreaking havoc in Kenya for the last month.

The blast occurred during rush hour near the Ambassadeur hotel and a restaurant in the packed central business district. It shattered shop windows and damaged a nearby bus.

“We saw a person rushing towards a City Hoppa bus, then it was as if he changed his mind and rushed back,” said witness Jane Muna, who added that the man looked Asian or Arab.

“He was carrying a small carton. I think he was trying to run into the restaurant with the box but I saw it explode at the door. I saw about eight people lying on the ground.”

FLYING GLASS

Local KTN television, however, said a man carrying a grenade was killed when it exploded as he tried to board a bus going to Nairobi’s international airport.

Some torn papers with English and Arabic script from the Koran were found at the scene, witnesses said. Anti-terrorism officers in white gloves scoured the area for clues.

The blast sent the Kenyan shilling down to 67.15/25 to the U.S. dollar from 66.40/50 on Friday. “The market is anxious about what the bomb portends,” said one dealer, Raphael Owino.

At Nairobi’s Kenyatta Hospital, where blast victims were distinguished from other patients by a white sticker on their foreheads, staff said 37 people were hurt, four critically.

“The first injuries we received were very bad. Some had deep cuts in their necks caused by glass,” a nurse said.

Police Commissioner Hussein Ali berated media for speculation and said it was too early to know the cause.

Baton-wielding police, some on horseback, drove back a crowd of several thousand people milling round the scene.

The blast followed weeks of violence by the Mungiki, notorious for beheading its enemies. Police killed more than 30 people last week in raids on a Nairobi slum that is a stronghold of the gang, which has been calling for an uprising.

Tribal and criminal violence traditionally flares ahead of elections, and a presidential poll is due in December.

Separate bombs killed more than 200 people at the U.S. embassy in 1998, just a few blocks from Monday’s blast, and 15 at an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa in 2002.

Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina, Njuwa Maina, Helen Nyambura

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