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January 25, 2011 / Dan Whipple

Terrorism 101

The road

The road a truck bomber would have to negotiate, currently sans chicane.

The other day I had my first run-in with terrorism since moving to Kenya—but in a good way.
Just up the hill from our Nairobi compound—say thirty meters from the front gate—is the Royal Netherlands Embassy. In 1998, the U.S. Embassy in the central business district was bombed, killing 212 people and wounding over 4,000. It was, says Wikipedia, the event that brought Osama bin Laden to the attention of the general public.

After this—what do we call it? Incident? Crime? Act of war? Mass murder?—a lot of the Western diplomatic community decided that maybe it wasn’t such a hot tactic to cluster downtown together like the start of rubber ducky race. They explored real estate options in other parts of the city.

The U.S. Embassy ended up in a hideous concrete monolith in Gigiri, next to the United Nations offices. I’ve been there three times now, and I’d rather have a root canal than go again—though it’s hard to imagine the circumstances in which that would be a choice I was offered.
The Dutch, a gentler, more worldly, more wooden-shoed, tuliped and Hans Brinkered people than Americans—“We don’t believe in bunkering down too much,” says embassy First Secretary Sinnika Kroese—ended up near us. Well, in fairness, we ended up near them, because they were here first. The point is, the Dutch reside in this leafy suburb in a nifty post-modern building that could house ten or fifteen oral surgeons and never look out of place.

But Holland—sorry, the Kingdom of the Netherlands—has stepped up its profile as a terrorist target. The growth of a domestic anti-Muslim political party, Partij voor de Vrijheid, their participation on the American side in the Iraq war, along with the general increase in the number of violent jerks around the world, has meant the Netherlands has found nearly as many enemies as the U.S., Israel or Britain. Nearly on their level. Pretty impressive for a nation that’s two-thirds the size of West Virginia. What target do you think Osama would pick in West Virginia? White Sulphur Springs? Harper’s Ferry?

Looking up the hill

Looking up the hill from our gate toward the Netherlands embassy.

The essence of this, the crux, the important point I’m trying to get across, is that we live right down the hill from the Dutch embassy—sorry, Kingdom of the Netherlands. The British security expert says, “It’s not a matter of whether there will be an attack, but when.” Not on the Dutch necessarily, you understand, but somewhere.


The embassy now wants to construct a barrier of some sort to prevent a truck filled with explosives from detonating in the front yard. Who could be against that?

This means that residents will have to tolerate whatever inconveniences are introduced by the new security measures. The residents are concerned about security, too, but in different way. We’re more worried about your garden variety crimes—break-ins, carjacking, muggings, that sort of thing. And it turns out that the kind of security you want to prevent a truck bomb is different from the kind of security you need to prevent a carjacking. Who knew?

The British High Commission security expert says the best way to stop a truck bomber is to put a chicane along the road, a series of obstructions around which the potential truck bomber must navigate, slowing down, unable to get to the embassy “at speed” (as they say). The entry would be guarded by the elite GSU, an American-trained special Kenyan police unit. Some of the GSU also specialize in robbing banks and executing suspected felons in the street in front of pedestrians with cameras, but this is another issue.

The recent bombing in the Moscow airport, by the way, was carried out by a suicide bomber. The British security expert said, “There’s nothing you can do to stop a suicide bomber.” A lone bomber probably couldn’t carry enough explosive power to do much damage to the embassy, though they could kill quite a few people who wait most days outside for visas.

A gate at the top of the road entrance, however, with a guard (askari)who does not fall asleep, will often discourage your run-of-the-mill criminal.

So are we scared about all this? The potential of terrorist bombs going off up the hill? Carjackers at the gate?

We are not. Meetings are held. Our people talk to their people. The dog still gets her lunchtime walk. But it is nice to know that international global tensions are paying attention to little old me.



Leave a Comment
  1. Sharaine / Jan 26 2011 12:00 am

    Ai yi yi. Just when you thought you might have found a peaceful segment of Nairobi. Your words are well written, tongue-in-cheek sort of. I sure hope they can avoid any attacks at the Nairobi Netherlands Embassy.

  2. Dan Whipple / Jan 27 2011 7:01 pm

    It’s all very civilized. The Dutch have a genuine issue to deal with here, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. (Well, a little lightly, maybe.) But everyone seems to want to get along with their neighbors.

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