By Isaac D. Pacheco
On the morning of Aug. 7, 1998, al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists simultaneously detonated truck bombs with several tons of explosives in front of Embassy Dar es Salaam and Embassy Nairobi across the border in Kenya. The resulting blasts killed several hundred people and injured thousands more, the vast majority of whom were local citizens. Several present-day locally employed (LE) staff members worked at Embassy Dar es Salaam at the time of the attack. They described scenes of chaos and confusion in the immediate aftermath as they struggled to escape smoke-filled offices, provide triage to the injured, and in some instances, recover the bodies of fallen colleagues.
“I could see fire jumping from one car to another, and saw people bleeding,” said Pelagia Buberwa, general services office housing assistant. “All of a sudden, I saw a leg … and I could see blood everywhere, and I was kind of confused, and my boss was saying, ‘Let’s help!’ I saw there was a lady guard who was already dead, and we pulled her out, and I was crying. I don’t know why I got guts, but I did it. And then down was another guard who was still alive. Immediately, we pulled him out, and they took him to the hospital.”
In the minutes, hours, and days after the horrific bombings, these LE staff and other Mission personnel, several of whom were still recovering from injuries sustained in the attack, sprang into action. Their grief and shock transformed into a steely resolve as they helped coordinate response efforts and rebuild embassy operations from the ground up.
“I was the only person left in HR,” said Valerie Nair, global talent management specialist at the embassy. “The next day, the chargé called me and said, ‘Val, you need to come back to work. I’m going to send you a car. The driver is going to come to your house and pick you up. We are going through the debris in the building, and I know there are files that you want to keep.’ I had a perforated eardrum, so I couldn’t hear well, but I just had to go. I had to rebuild. We had to start.”
In the wake of the 1998 bombings, enhanced physical security requirements have been implemented at posts around the world. American officials have also strengthened security and intelligence partnerships with host nations to ensure the safety of personnel working in embassies and consulates abroad. While mental and physical scars from the attacks remain, the Embassy Dar es Salaam team is looking toward a brighter future and continues to seek out new opportunities for cooperation between the United States and Tanzania.