Explosive experts were on Monday poring over evidence to find out the cause of a blast that injured 35 people in downtown Nairobi, leaving the government divided on what sparked it.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga termed the blast “an attack” on Kenya, contradicting Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere who had attributed it to an electric fault.
“From preliminary investigations, we can rule out that it was either a grenade or a bomb. It was probably an electrical fault,” Mr Iteere said.
Later at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Internal Security minister George Saitoti appeared to cast doubt on the electrical fault theory.
Instead, he pleaded with Kenyans to be patient as investigations into the cause of the explosion are conducted.
“I believe what the Police Commissioner said was right from immediate investigations at the scene. The information I have doesn’t indicate the actual cause of the explosion.
“This is why I am urging Kenyans to be patient as investigations to find out what the cause was are carried out,” he said.
And added: “People should not rush to conclusions; one should not be involved in speculation.”
The Kenya Power and Lighting Company also discounted the possibility that the blast could have been caused by an electrical fault.
“The affected building has no ground mounted transformer inside or outside that would explode,” said a statement from the power firm.
“All the electrical connections to the building including the cut-outs (fuses) on the Kenya Power side that would otherwise blow in the event of a short circuit inside the building were intact.”
However, in a statement sent to newsrooms on Monday night, Mr Iteere said though the cause of explosion had still not been established, investigators were exploring the possibility that the blast could have been caused by criminals using an improvised explosive device.
The blast occurred at about 1.15 pm, ripped off a section of the roof and shattered glass windows, though the front glass facade of the adjacent Mount Kenya University (MKU) building was unaffected. (SEE IN PICTURES: Blast rocks Kenyan capital)
Assanand’s House is a building between the MKU Tower and Krep Bank and used to be a music shop before it was converted to stalls.
The building has over 20 such stalls, called exhibitions, stocking all types of wares, including clothes, mobile phones, computers and stationery.
Witnesses said there was a blast before a fire broke out. Smoke billowed out and the flames quickly spread to highly flammable goods such as clothes and shoes.
The blast shook nearby buildings and most of those injured suffered from burns, broken limps and bruises.
Doctors were attending to 16 others for minor cuts and soft tissue injuries.
Kenyatta National Hospital, the country’s premier referral hospital, took in 30 victims, Nairobi Hospital attended to four, Meridian Medical Centre located at the Nation Centre treated one as did Savannah Medical Centre.
One of the investigators said it looked as if the explosion occurred next to the rear wall of stall number 10. There was a blast crater about half a metre deep.
Senior explosive experts under the command of the head of the Anti-terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) Mr Boniface Mwaniki converged at the scene to look for evidence that could assist in establishing the cause of the explosion and identity of suspects.
Though police have not arrested anyone, the public apprehended a man suspected to have hurled an explosive into the building. However, police said they could not immediately link him to the explosion.
Moi Avenue was immediately sealed off, causing a massive jam made worse by thousands of curious onlookers who thronged the scene. Internal Security Assistant minister Orwa Ojode begged the public to disperse for their own safety.
“This would also ensure that the scene is preserved to enable accurate collection of forensic evidence,” he said.
On Saturday night, at least three people were injured in two separates attacks when suspected terrorists hurled grenades at Dadaab and Wajir. (READ: Four arrested over Kenya grenade attack)
The first attack took place at Ifo Refugee camp where construction workers were building a school and five of them were injured.
The second incident, which injured one person, occurred at a hotel in Wajir town that is frequented by government officials and is on a road leading to a military camp.
Prof Saitoti, who visited the injured at Kenyatta Hospital, urged the public to work with police to arrest those behind the numerous attacks.
“Kenyans must know we have enemies of this country; enemies of the people of Kenya. They should get together and share information about people they suspect,” he said.
The country’s top security officers were meeting over the attack.
Security sources told Nation that the counter terrorism police were locked in a meeting with heads of other security agencies to share intelligence that Al Shabaab could perhaps have been behind the blast.
This is after reports emerged that Ugandan intelligence agencies had linked the blast to the militant group which has been blamed for a spate of grenade attacks in Kenya since October last year. (Click here to see a chronology of recent attacks)
Intelligence tracking in Uganda indicated that barely five minutes after the blast, the pro-Al-Shabaab Twitter site, Al-Kataib, reported a “huge explosion in Nairobi”. The post did not however claim responsibility for the attack.
On Monday, The Monitor newspaper in Uganda reported that airports and tourism sites in East and Central Africa had been put on alert following international intelligence reports that terrorists were planning attacks to mark one year since al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed.
Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, was killed by American forces in Pakistan in May last year.
One source claimed that a woman said the blast occurred after a bearded man left a bag in one of the stalls.