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An Anatomy of a Grenade Attack: Case Study – Nairobi, Kenya

On 10 March 2012 at 19:30 local time, four grenades were thrown from a passing car at Nairobi’s Machakos Country Bus Station. Nine people were killed and at least 69 people were injured. Kenyan officials described the attack as the deadliest terrorist attack in Nairobi since the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing.

Nairobi, Kenya. Google Maps.

According to George Saitoti, Kenya’s Minister of State for Internal Security and Provincial Administration at the time, the attackers were “driving along Landhies Road towards Jogoo Road and threw four grenades consecutively about seven meters apart”. The explosions caused a fire around a small crater, “the size of a pothole” where one of the grenades fell.

Figure 6: Approximate locations of where the four grenades landed during the Machakos attack, based on a 2021 map. 

Machakos Country Bus Station is Kenya’s busiest bus terminal, located at the heart of Nairobi’s central business district and used primarily for travel ‘up country’ to other regions of Kenya. The attack was conducted during rush hour when the bus station was “packed” ensuring maximum civilian harm. At any time there could be tens of busses stationed at Machakos, Figure 7 is a Google Earth screenshot from March 2012 and approximately 57 busses can be counted.

Figure 7: Satellite image of Machakos Country Bus Station in March 2012. Source: Google Earth.

Immediately after the attack “pandemonium” ensued, medical practitioners on the scene told AOAV. In the rush to evacuate Machakos significant number of injuries including broken limbs and abrasions were caused by the chaos and commotion, this fact was brought up by all AOAV’s interviewees. Security personnel told AOAV that there was also a high number of traffic accidents in the area that night – an under researched but frequently observed tertiary effect of explosive violence. 

AOAV’s interviews revealed that the majority of injuries were from the penetration of grenade fragmentation. Charles, one of AOAV’s interviewees, lost three teeth and a piece of his tongue from a grenade fragment. Another victim, Samuel, to this day – nine years after the event – is unable to run because of the grenade fragment lodged into his lower back. Gabriel, an ambulance driver for the Red Cross who drove patients from Machakos to Kenyatta Hospital, confirmed that aside from fragmentation wounds, the most common injuries he witnessed were “fractures, abrasions and lacerations”. 

Between 2011 and 2014 there were a high number of grenade attacks in bars, bus terminals, churches and shopping centres in Nairobi. 2012, the year of the Machakos attack, was by far the most violent in Kenya. The Kenyan authorities accused the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al-Shabaab of perpetrating the attack. It was thought to be in retaliation for Kenyan Defence Force’s military incursion into southern Somalia in October 2011 to defend the transitional government. Al-Shabbab had vowed revenge and urged sympathisers to carry out attacks in Kenya. However, Al-Shabab denied any involvement in the attacks, releasing a statement insisting that the group is not usually ‘involved in such low-scale attacks’.

The Kenyan authorities have not publicly identified the type of grenade used in the attack. Having examined the injury patterns and building damage, AOAV has discerned that the grenade is likely to have contained ball-bearings due to the spherical nature of the perforations. If this is the case, it is likely to be the Bulgarian RGO-78 grenade (see Figure 8) which contains 850 steel balls embedded in a plastic liner. The RGO-78 is a high-explosive grenade, a defensive version of the RGD-5 with a larger casualty radius. The RGO-78 weighs around 450g with 85g of TNT. It has a casualty radius of approximately 20 meters with a 3.2 to 4 second fuse delay.  

Figure 8:
Figure 9: Lasting fragmentation damage to a kiosk at Machakos Bus Station (March 2021). Source: Verity Hubbard, 2021.
Figure 10: Entrance to Machakos Bus Station (March 2021). Source: Verity Hubbard, 2021.
Figure 11: Location of fourth grenade detonation, with damage to the wall (March 2021). Source: Verity Hubbard, 2021.
Figure 12: Location of second grenade (March 2021). Source: Verity Hubbard, 2021.
Figure 13: Bus preparing to depart from Machakos (March 2021). Source: Verity Hubbard, 2021.

Report continues:

Chapter 3: SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Chapter 4: SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Chapter 5: SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
Chapter 6: SDG 4 – Quality Education
Chapter 7: Other Considerations
Conclusion and Recommendations