Bomb sets parts of embassy area ablaze in Dar es Salaam

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A CAR bomb at the United States embassy in Tanzania turned part of Dar es Salaam's diplomatic quarter into a chaos of flame, smoke and rubble yesterday. Initial reports from an embassy spokesman said six people were killed and 58injured.

The explosion rocked the embassy at around 10.45am, destroying the entrance of the complex, setting several cars ablaze and toppling trees.

The scene looked like "a war zone", one witness said.

Shocked US Marine embassy guards rushed to help evacuate the building and then, pistols in hand, cordoned off the area. A Tanzanian security officer at the embassy, Daniel Edson, said everyone was taken by surprise. "There was nothing unusual before the explosion," he said.

"I was in the visa section," said Amio Zara from her hospital bed, where she was being treated for head, hand and leg injuries suffered in the blast.

"I heard a loud bang outside and immediately felt pain in my head. I tried to run downstairs but the stairs had collapsed. I managed to get outside, I saw smoke and fallen trees before I collapsed," she added.

The body of one victim was unrecognisable. Fifteen of the wounded were kept in hospital for treatment.

The French and German embassies, both nearby, were damaged by the explosion but no one in either building was hurt.

The explosion devastated the front entrance to the building, blowing off the wall on the right side of the embassy.

Black debris was strewn around and at the front of the embassy was a mangled, blackened car wreck.

"Everyone is shocked. Very scared. Our families are waking up this very moment to hear about the bomb. You can imagine they are worried," a US official at the embassy said.

The Tanzanian President, Benjamin Mkapa, condemned the attack. "Horrible and despicable," he said to reporters on his arrival at the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where he is due to join six other African leaders for a summit on the Congo crisis.

"We are going to try to unearth who is behind this ... When we do, we are going to take very stern measures indeed," he said.

"Attacks like this have never happened here before," said Richard Mngazija, deputy editor of Tanzania's Daily Mail. "Nairobi, yes, Mogadishu, yes, Cairo, yes, but Dar? Never.

"So when the explosion went off we thought it was an earthquake. Our office is maybe eight kilometres from the embassy. We could hear and feel the blast from here, it was that loud and powerful.

"The roof of the building here shook. I thought it was going to come off. The computer screens leapt and blanked out for a moment. But no one here thought of bombs or terrorism. We just don't have terrorists here."

He said the American embassy looked like a tornado had swept through it, with its left wing blown apart and open to the sky.

Blackened debris was strewn around the embassy and at the front of the building was a mangled, scorched car wreck. One witness told of a woman injured when a wall fell on her, and of another woman who had her nose ripped off.

Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye said the explosion was instigated by people outside Tanzania.

"Tanzania will do all in its power to bring those involved to justice. Such a thing has never happened before and has nothing to do with Tanzania- US relations," he said.

Tanzania, alone among its African neighbours, is a virtual stranger to political violence. Tanzanians pride themselves on their peaceful behaviour and the capital, Dar es Salaam, means haven of peace.

So unprepared is Tanzania for this sort of event that the city fire brigade could not send any of its vehicles to the scene. Instead, one fire engine from the port, two from the airport and another from the army were summoned. Firefighters prevented fires from reaching a fuel truck parked nearby.

As night fell, the embassy, set near the Indian Ocean, around two miles north of the city centre, was deserted but for a guard of US marines and Tanzanian riot police.

The French and German embassies, both nearby, were damaged by the explosion but no one in either building was hurt.

"At this point, only several hours after the bombing, we have no idea what the motives of the bombers were," said the American Charge d'Affaires, John Lange. "All we know is that an explosion occurred - right in front of our embassy."

Mr Lange said that the latest casualty figures were six people dead and 58 injured. Some 20 cars parked at the embassy were also badly damaged. No United States citizens were reported dead.

"We'll be working closely with the Tanzanian government which has been very co-operative ... but we have no idea what the motivation was," he said.

The bomb proved less damaging, in part, than the one in Nairobi because the US embassy in Dar es Salaam stands alone around two miles north of the city centre, while the embassy in Nairobi is on a downtown street corner.