December 5, 2022

Law firm representing hundreds of Kenyan victims of the 1998 terrorist bombing by Al Qaeda writes White House spokesman John Kirby over heated exchange with journalist Simon Ateba: ‘Your remarks have been interpreted to reflect a lack of American interest in the losses suffered by our Kenyan friends and allies’

John Kirby and Simon Ateba
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A law firm representing hundreds of Kenyan victims of the 1998 terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi by Al Qaeda has sent a letter to the White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby over a heated exchange with Today News Africa’s White House correspondent Simon Ateba during a news briefing on August 2.

In the letter received by Today News Africa in Washington DC, the law firm, Musolino & Dessel, said Kirby’s remarks during the White House press briefing “have been interpreted to reflect a lack of American interest in the losses suffered by our Kenyan friends and allies.”

“My office represents hundreds of Kenyan victims of the 1998 terrorist bombing by Al Qaeda of the American embassy in Nairobi. On May 20, 2022, we secured final judgments against Al Qaeda in the approximate amount of $56 billion. We have proposed to Congress legislation that will make all Kenyan and Tanzanian victims of those attacks eligible to participate in the U.S. Victims Compensation Fund,” Philip M. Musolino wrote on behalf of the law firm.

He added, “We viewed with some concern your exchange on August 2, 2022, with Mr. Simon Ateba of Today News Africa. While we appreciate your interest in emphasizing our success in locating and killing terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, your additional remarks have been interpreted to reflect a lack of American interest in the losses suffered by our Kenyan friends and allies. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with your team so that we can dispel those reactions. I enclose for your consideration some background information that may help in that process.

“As you may know, three days from now, while Secretary of State Blinken commences his African visits, the 24th annual commemoration of the bombing will take place in Nairobi at the August 7th Memorial Park. That ceremony will be video streamed live so that your team will have the opportunity to observe the enduring responses of the Kenyan people. I hope that representatives of the U.S. government will be in attendance.

“Perhaps more importantly, one year from Sunday, the 25th annual commemoration will take place. Many Kenyans are of the view that the 25th commemoration will be a litmus test for American friendship and steadfastness in East Africa. I ask that the White House commit itself in the next several months to: (1) support of our legislation, which I emphasize is budget-neutral; and (2) the scheduling of attendance by high-level U.S. officials at the 25th commemoration next year.

“Particularly, in view of the U.S. – Africa summit now scheduled for December 13th – 15th at the White House, I am certain that you appreciate that these actions will strengthen our bonds with Kenya at a critical time and will advance the national security interests of the U.S. in East Africa and in Africa as a whole.”

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Kirby was pressed on Tuesday by Today News Africa correspondent Simon Ateba on the fact that Kenyans and Tanzanians who were killed alongside Americans in two al Qaeda bombings at U.S. embassies in 1998 did not receive any compensation while American citizens and locally employed staff, who made up a small share of the 224 dead and more than 4,000 wounded, shared $335 million. Kirby brushed aside the question, flared up and attacked the African journalist’s ‘tone’, telling him “I don’t even know where you came from on that one.”

Kirby took questions from White House correspondents following the killing in a U.S. airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, at 9:48 p.m. Eastern Time, on July 30, 2022, of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,977 people on American soil in 2001 and the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded over 4,500 others in 1998.

“Mr. Kirby, al-Zawahiri killed more than 200 people in Tanzania and in Kenya in 1998. And right now, even though the U.S. compensated U.S. citizens who were victims of those bombings, the people in Kenya and Tanzania — they’ve received nothing.  What message do you have for them now that you’ve killed him?” Ateba asked Kirby referring to the $335 million paid by Sudan in 2020 in exchange for removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. That money went to American citizens and locally employed staff, who made up a small share of the dead and wounded.

On August 7, 1998, more than 200 people were killed in nearly simultaneous truck bomb explosions in two East African cities, one at the United States Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the other at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The majority of them were Kenyan and Tanzanian citizens.

Kirby brushed aside the question only telling the journalist that al-Zawahiri‘s death should be celebrated by everybody. “I’d say the same thing I told Mr. (Peter) Doocy (of Fox News) here: that this is not just a good day for the United States of America, it’s a good day for the world.”

“Yeah, but I’m saying that the families of the victims of those bombings were not compensated by the U.S. What message do you have for them?” Ateba pressed further.

“I don’t have any compensation policies here to speak to.  Again, Mr. Zawahiri’s death is good for everybody around the world. He was a killer.  And — and it’s a good thing that he’s no longer walking the face of the Earth. It also means that we’re going to have to stay vigilant to this threat going forward,” he said, continuing to brush aside anger in Kenya and Tanzania over lack of compensation for their citizens.

“So are you saying that the lives of Kenyans and Tanzanians don’t really matter?” Ateba countered. Kirby exploded, “Wow.  I got to take issue with that. I did not say that.  And I don’t even know where you came from on that one. Of course, all lives matter.”

He added, “I didn’t say that, sir.  And I really, really take exception to the — to the tone and the implication in that question.  Of course, their lives matter.  Every life matters, particularly a life taken so violently as by the hands of a terrorist. If those lives didn’t matter, sir, we wouldn’t have taken the action that we took this weekend. And if those lives didn’t matter, sir, we wouldn’t be staying vigilant to the threat going forward, which we will do.”

Simon Ateba

Despite his attempt to brush aside the question, anger has continued to grow in Kenya and Tanzania over the failure by the United States to compensate the victims of al-Zawahiri’s bombings in both countries in 1998.

How Ayman al-Zawahiri was targeted and killed:

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a senior administration official on Monday night detailed how al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was targeted and killed in a U.S. airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, at 9:48 p.m. Eastern Time, on July 30, 2022.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became al Qaeda leader in 2011 after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, was one of the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks that killed 2,977 people on American soil in 2001 and the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded over 4,500 others in 1998.

“At 9:48 p.m. Eastern Time on July 30th, 6:18 a.m. Kabul Time on July 31st, the United States undertook a precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the President’s direction,” a senior administration official told reporters during a teleconference. “That operation targeted and killed al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks and his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death during a U.S. counterterrorism mission. Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to U.S. persons, interests, and national security.”

“As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who might bring harm to Americans.  We met that commitment on Saturday night.  And in doing so, we showed that, without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm’s way, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist, and then take action to remove him from the battlefield,” the official added. 

Addressing the nation on Monday night, President Biden said al-Zawahiri “carved a trail of murder and violence against American citizens, American service members, American diplomats, and American interests.”

He said “since the United States delivered justice to bin Laden 11 years ago, Zawahiri has been (the) leader of al Qaeda,” and that “From hiding, he coordinated al Qaeda’s branches and all around the world — including setting priorities, for providing operational guidance that called for and inspired attacks against U.S. targets.  He made videos, including in recent weeks, calling for his followers to attack the United States and our allies. Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more.”

A senior administration official who briefed reporters shortly before President Biden’s remarks provided more details of what went on behind the scenes, saying that “the ability to locate Zawahiri after years of hiding was the result of careful, patient, and persistent work by our counterterrorism professionals. And our ability to act on it effectively was made possible by quick, decisive action by the President once we knew with confidence where Zawahiri was located and that we could conduct the operation in a manner that limited the risk of civilian casualties.”

The official said, “At 9:48 p.m. Eastern Time on July 30th, 6:18 a.m. Kabul Time on July 31st, the United States undertook a precision counterterrorism operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the President’s direction.

“That operation targeted and killed al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden’s deputy during the 9/11 attacks and his successor in 2011, following bin Laden’s death during a U.S. counterterrorism mission. Zawahiri continued to pose an active threat to U.S. persons, interests, and national security.  

“As President Biden has consistently said, we will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists who might bring harm to Americans.  We met that commitment on Saturday night.  And in doing so, we showed that, without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm’s way, we remain able to identify and locate even the world’s most wanted terrorist, and then take action to remove him from the battlefield.

“Zawahiri was al Qaeda’s most senior leader since June 2011. He continued to provide strategic direction to al Qaeda’s affiliates worldwide, calling for attacks on the United States. His death deals a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the U.S. homeland.

“Our ability to locate Zawahiri after years of hiding was the result of careful, patient, and persistent work by our counterterrorism professionals.  And our ability to act on it effectively was made possible by quick, decisive action by the President once we knew with confidence where Zawahiri was located and that we could conduct the operation in a manner that limited the risk of civilian casualties.

“As with all similar operations, various parts of the counterterrorism community collaborated closely to plan and execute this complex operation.

“For several years, the U.S. government has been aware of a network that we assessed supported Zawahiri. 

“In the last year, we had been watching for indications of al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan.

“This year, we identified that Zawahiri’s family — his wife, his daughter, and her children — relocated to a safe house in Kabul. 

“We then identified Zawahiri at the location in Kabul through layering multiple streams of intelligence.

“Zawahiri’s family exercised longstanding terrorist tradecraft that we assessed was designed to prevent anyone from following them to Zawahiri.  

Over several months, we increased our confidence that Zawahiri was present at the location in Kabul, and we gained insight on others present at the location and their activities.

“In early April, Jon Finer and Liz Sherwood-Randall were briefed on this intelligence.  Jake Sullivan, Jon, and Liz Sherwood-Randall were briefed subsequently as more intelligence was developed.  And Jake briefed the President shortly thereafter.

“We were able to build a pattern of life through multiple, independent sources of information to inform the operation.

“Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul.  Once Zawahiri arrived at the location, we are not aware of him ever leaving the safe house.  We identified Zawahiri on multiple occasions for sustained periods of time on the balcony where he was ultimately struck.

“Zawahiri continued to produce videos once he arrived at the safe house.  And indeed, given the way in which al Qaeda produces videos, we should not be surprised if Zawahiri filmed additional videos that may be released subsequent to his death on July 30th.

“We also investigated the construction and nature of the safe house in which he was located so that we could confidently conduct an operation to kill Zawahiri without threatening the structural integrity of the building while minimizing the risk to civilians, including Zawahiri’s family.

“We convened a team of independent analysts to review all data surrounding the identity of the occupants of the safe house.  We systemically eliminated all reasonable options other than Zawahiri after layering all source intelligence against the problem.

“This prompted a series of close-hold briefings and meetings to vet the intelligence and to evaluate clear options to present to the President.

“Because the information was extraordinarily sensitive, only a very small and select group of officials at key agencies were brought into the process and the deliberations at this early stage.

“We needed to make sure that our information was rock solid and that we developed clear options for the President that he could consider that would also minimize the risk of any civilian casualties and take into account the ramifications of taking such a strike in downtown Kabul.  And we need to confirm the legal basis for the operation.

“As our confidence level increased that we had identified Zawahiri and could undertake a precise, targeted strike, the President convened, over the course of the last few weeks, several meetings with his key advisors and Cabinet members to carefully scrutinize the intelligence and evaluate the best course of action for targeting Zawahiri.

“The President received updates on the development of the target throughout May and June.  On July 1st, the President was briefed on a proposed operation in the White House Situation Room by key members of his Cabinet, including Director of the CIA William Burns and counterterrorism experts, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, along with National Security Advisor Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Finer, and Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall.

“The President was, as always, deeply engaged in the briefing and immersed in the intelligence.  He asked detailed questions about what we knew and how we knew it.

“Importantly, he examined closely the model of Zawahiri’s house that the intelligence community had built and brought into the White House Situation Room for briefings on this issue.  He sought explanations of lighting, of weather, of construction materials, and of other factors that could influence the success of this operation and reduce the risk of civilian casualties. 

“He was particularly focused on ensuring that every step had been taken to ensure the operation would minimize that risk, and he wanted to understand the basis upon which we had confidence in our assessments.

“The President requested further information on the building plans and about likely effects of a strike, in particular directing the intelligence community to prepare a series of impact analyses so that the President could fully understand and we would be prepared to manage the ramifications of the strike in the region and beyond.

“The President also pressed us to consider how to mitigate risks to other goals, including the safe return of Mark Frerichs, ongoing efforts to relocate our Afghan partners, and access by air to Afghanistan for future counterterrorism needs.

“Principals and deputies also convened multiple times in person in the White House Situation Room over the course of June and July to pressure test the intelligence picture and to ensure that we sufficiently “red teamed” the options, while also thinking through how we might mitigate any risks or costs associated with moving forward.

“A very tight circle of senior interagency lawyers examined the intelligence reporting and confirmed the legal basis for the operation. They confirmed Zawahiri was a lawful target based on his continuing leadership role in al Qaeda and his participation in and operational support for al Qaeda attacks.  

“On July 25th, the President convened his key Cabinet members and advisors to receive a final, updated briefing on the intelligence assessment, which continued to strengthen on a daily basis.

“The President received an updated operational report and pressed at a granular level.  He asked again about any other options that would reduce collateral or civilian casualties.  He wanted to understand more about the layout of rooms behind the door and windows on the third floor of the building. 

“This also included extensive discussion about the possible impact on the effort to recover Mark Frerichs that is underway.  He also discussed the impact on the relationship and conduct of the Taliban more generally, including on our efforts to continue relocating Afghans, SIVs, and American citizen family members.

“He also considered the impact on our ability to access Afghanistan for future counterterrorism missions and on other interests of the United States in the region and beyond. 

“Finally, he asked for each participant’s views.  All strongly recommended approval of this target.

“At the conclusion of that meeting, the President authorized a precise, tailored airstrike, on the condition that a strike minimize to the greatest extent possible the risk of civilian casualties.  This authorization meant that the U.S. government could conduct an airstrike once an opportunity was available.

“The strike was ultimately carried out, as I said, at 9:48 p.m. Eastern on July 30th by an unmanned aerial vehicle.  Two Hellfire missiles were fired at Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed.

“We are confident through our intelligence sources and methods, including multiple streams of intelligence, that we killed Zawahiri and no other individuals.  

“Zawahiri’s family members were present in other parts of the safe house at the time of the strike, and were purposefully not targeted and were unharmed. 

“We have no indications that civilians were harmed in this strike.  As I have said, we took every possible precaution to avoid civilian harm.

“Following the strike, another independent team reviewed holdings for confirmation of who was killed at the safe house. Their findings concluded with high confidence that only Zawahiri died in the strike.

“We are also aware that Haqqani Taliban members took actions after the strike to conceal Zawahiri’s former presence at the location.  We have identified a concerted effort to restrict access to the safe house and the surrounding area for hours after the strike.

“The safe house used by Zawahiri is now empty.  The Haqqani Taliban members acted quickly to remove Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter, and her children to another location, consistent with a broader effort to cover up that they had been living in the safe house.

“Zawahiri’s death deals a significant blow to al Qaeda and will degrade the group’s ability to operate, including against the U.S. Homeland.  

“As I indicated at the outset, this action keeps faith with the President’s solemn pledge to protect Americans from terrorist threats, including addressing such threats that might emerge from Afghanistan.

“Even as the President ended two decades of war in Afghanistan by getting American service men and women out of harm’s way there, he promised that we would establish a capacity, from outside the country, to identify and address terrorist threats to Americans.

“He made good on that with this action, as U.S. forces showed extraordinary capacity to build an intelligence picture on the world’s most wanted terrorist and then take precise action to  remove him from the battlefield.

“In so doing, the President’s decision has made the world a safer place and brought an additional measure of closure for all of us who mourn the victims of 9/11 and other al Qaeda violence.”

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