Prague, 10 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses strongly on Friday's anti-U.S. terrorist attacks in East Africa. Editorialists and analysts assess the possible motives behind the two car-bombings aimed at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed at least 200 people and wounded thousands more.
NEW YORK TIMES: Washington is obliged to upgrade security at U.S. embassies
The New York Times, in an editorial Saturday, said that "the deadly terrorism that struck U.S. embassies in Africa...stunned Americans. It came," the paper added, "as an unwelcome reminder that, in a terrorist's eyes, the world's most powerful country remains the world's No. 1 target. American embassies everywhere will need to be provided with the highest possible standards of physical security." The editorial continued: "It will need to be determined why the two embassy buildings, both built before the wave of terrorism against American embassies in the early 1980s, had not yet been upgraded to modern security standards. American embassies should have their building facades reinforced, their glass coated with plastic film to prevent shattering, and their security perimeters extended." It added: "Terrorism, both freelance and government-supported, is far from defeated, and U.S. embassies remain vulnerable. Diplomatic outposts of a democracy cannot be made into indestructible fortresses. But Washington is obliged to make them as secure as possible for those who work and do business there and for their neighbors as well."
WASHINGTON POST: U.S. embassies accessibility makes them tempting targets for bombers
The same day, the Washington Post wrote in its editorial: "Terrorism is global. Its perpetrators are mobile and can strike anywhere, and its victims can be selected at the terrorists' discretion." It went on: "This appears to be how Friday morning's explosions happened, since the impression is that Kenya and Tanzania are well outside the normal ambit of international violence and that they were but the accidental locations of twin attacks directed in the first instance against the United States. The toll of the two bombs, their occurrence in unlikely and apparently unsuspected venues, their virtual simultaneity: These are the elements of shock and horror." The Post's editorial went on: "Once again, there is cause to reflect on the dilemma of American embassies: They are built and run to showcase American openness and accessibility, precisely the qualities that can make them tempting targets to the bombers. And once again there is occasion to reflect on the risks borne by the official diplomatic representatives of the United States who, to conduct the national business, assume high personal risk." The editorial concluded: "Americans bow in collective gratitude to these men and women --and to the foreign nationals who also accept a measure of risk by working with them."
NEW YORK TIMES: Terrorists hate America because it is the most powerful country in the world
Foreign-affairs columnists in both papers also explored the issues involved The New York Times' Thomas Friedman wrote: "The targets --Nairobi and Dar es Salaam-- were most likely chosen because these were soft locations, with open borders and lax police, where perpetrators could easily smuggle in explosives, assemble car bombs and detonate them without fear of detection. To pull off nearly simultaneous bombings, outside U.S. embassies in two different African countries, is not something local terrorists are likely to be capable of. This usually requires at least the help of a state intelligence service, with access to safe houses, bomb-making techniques and diplomatic pouches." He went to say: "(Terrorists) hate America because it is the most powerful country in the world, because they feel it throws its economic weight around with great arrogance and because its cultural exports uproot their traditional societies. They use the best of today's modern technology for the most evil of deeds." And Friedman warned: "If the U.S. is compelled to retaliate, the Monica Lewinsky affair can only complicate matters. Every foreign or domestic actor who is looking for excuses to oppose any U.S. retaliation in this case will claim that President Clinton is only acting to distract attention from his embarrassing entanglements, and that will make building diplomatic support more difficult."
WASHINGTON POST: Retaliation should be swift, effective
In his Washington Post commentary, columnist Jim Hoagland wrote that even though "the bombs the terrorists exploded...made a bloody statement of hatred of America and Americans, other nations and peoples must not overlook their stake and responsibilities in this global war of terror. This," he said, "is their battle, too." Hoagland continued: "My guess is that the organizers of these attacks have an address that a claim of responsibility and explanation would expose. They would be directly vulnerable to American retaliation." He summed up: "Strong support for America's global role is now needed from the international community, to demonstrate to all terrorists that these tactics will not work. Retaliation for these outrages should be swift, effective and welcomed publicly by the community of nations."
TIMES: Militant Islam is growing stronger
The Times of London today says that "if it becomes established that the perpetrators of Friday's carnage in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam were Islamist extremists, governments in the region will have to guard against an anti-Muslim backlash in these stricken, hitherto relatively tolerant communities." In an editorial the paper writes: "The choice of African targets does not of itself suggest the opening of a new geographical front in Islamic fundamentalism's war against the 'Great Satan.' The preferred targets would have been in the Middle East, but improved security at U.S. installations in the region since the Dhahran bombing in 1996 has made these less accessible. Yet," the paper continues, "Africa is not immune to Islamist zealotry. Links were opportunistically forged after 1973, when Arab governments, courting African countries as part of their strategy of isolating Israel, portrayed Islam as the champion of the Third World's oppressed. Islamist terrorist cells have exploited that African foothold, and evidence suggests that they have had some success." The editorial concludes: "Across the world, militant Islam is growing stronger where Muslims feel marginalized. Hence the importance of working to make the benefits of democracy and growth universal. By sustaining its commitment to the continent, Washington can help to deny terrorists the ground in which they thrive."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Suspicion falls on Middle East nations
In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes today: "When terrorists' attacks can demonstrate to the world the powerlessness of the (world's) only superpower, they have a particularly strong effect. The two terrorist attacks are unlikely to turn out to have had anything at all to do with internal conflicts in Black Africa. Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam were chosen by the attackers as their preferred sites because they knew they could expect lower security measures in both places. By now, it's clear that professionals, with the support of secret services, were at work here: the terrorists must have learned their fatal handwork elsewhere. Therefore, the suspicion falls on Middle Eastern nations."
EL MUNDO: The United States should have been more aware of Islams rise in Africa
Spain's El Mundo daily titles its editorial today, "The Weakness of the American Giant." The paper notes that the U.S. Government "didn't find it necessary to extend (its upgrading of embassy security) to (all of) Africa. The embassies in Kenya and Tanzania --two of the oldest and least secure on the continent-- stayed as they were." This, El Mundo says, "was a grave miscalculation, an error all the greater because of the growth of the most radical Islamic fundamentalist tendencies (in Africa)." The editorial continues: "In particular, the change of regime in Sudan should have triggered a general revamping of U.S. security strategy on the Black Continent. Recent governments in Khartoum, strictly adhering to Islamic law, have encouraged a rise in fundamentalist guerrillas in nearby Eritrea and Ethiopia, to whom their leaders are openly hostile....Islamic fundamentalism is a new reality (in Africa) which the United States should have evaluated appropriately." El Mundo adds: "Islamic terrorism in Africa is undoubtedly also nourished by a growing anti-American climate --and one that is, more generally, anti-Western."
DERNIERES NOUVELLES DALSACE: Africa becomes another battlefield in global terrorist war
Writing on Saturday in the French regional newspaper Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace, Foreign Editor Jean-Claude Kiefer also asked why Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam had been chosen by the terrorists for their attacks. His answer was that in Africa recently "U.S. policies have become more visible, making the continent another battlefield in the global dirty (terrorist) war. And nothing is easier for the extremists than to hide themselves in the cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic societies of African large cities." Kiefer concludes his commentary by saying that "it remains to be seen whether the blood baths of Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam do not signify the beginning of a new wave of attacks against American and Western interests around the world, similar to the one that took place in the 1980s."