Surviving the Kenya Bombing

We’re not doing very well at the moment, humanity, I mean. Look no further than the Malaysia flight allegedly shot down over Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in Gaza which serve to highlight ongoing tensions and political ill will towards lasting and sustainable efforts for peace and political cooperation. As is their want, the mainstream press is starting to wheel out stories of people who have for some reason or another miraculously cheated death, be it failing to board the aeroplane from Holland to Malaysia or otherwise.

Kenya bombing

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya before the bombing in 1980

This, as you guessed, is my story of how I survived the Kenya bombing in 1980.

It’s actually a story that I had forgotten. Why should I place unnecessary importance to something which happened when I was but four years old and hardly a free thinking individual?

Kenya bombing NYE 1980

Kenya bombing NYE 1980

I am more inclined to recount the story of a young lady who was in my keep as a member of an expedition I led to Ecuador back in 2005 who, with her family on holiday in Sri Lanka over Christmas 2004, amazingly survived the tragic events of the Boxing Day Tsunami. Waking late after their Christmas excesses, the whole family was signed up to leave the hotel relatively early to head inland to an Orangutan sanctuary. If it weren’t for the insistence of their tour guide, they would have stayed in bed. As it was they reluctantly pulled themselves from their covers and spent an enjoyable day on high ground only to return to their hotel later that afternoon. Or what remained of their hotel. That day in Sri Lank more than 35,000 people died.

Mine is far more coincidental, far more removed as I have no memory of it and any images have been plucked from newspaper archives and Flickr accounts implanting a false reconstruction of events which are far removed from my own.

newspapers in Kenya

Taken from the Kenya Standard

Both my parents have passed away and there are precious few family or friends able to completely corroborate this version, but take it as gospel, that we were staying in the room alongside Qaddura Mohammed Abd-El-Hamid. That would make it room 6 or 8 I suppose. I can even recall my parents remembering what he looked like.

Here’s where the tale gets freaky though. Being a four-year old child and being in a tropical country, there was always a high probability of me falling ill. Just like clockwork, this happened. The fever wouldn’t shake and any doctor provided by the hotel was unable to neither isolate nor identify the cause. My parents, clearly worried, started discussing staying an extra night or two in the Norfolk Hotel to allow for me to recover enough to fly back to London. As it was, our tickets were for the afternoon of December 31.

Throwing caution into the wind, they decided to risk my illness and the health of the passengers on that British Airways flight to London from Nairobi. As we landed at Heathrow the following morning the front page was no less than the images of the tragedy that had befallen in Nairobi killing 20 and injuring a further 80 guests and staff at the Norfolk Hotel. The bomb had detonated as people were dining that evening and had been placed under the radiator of the room beside to ours and above the opulent dining room.


Carlos the Jackal

The Norfolk bombing was blamed on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) but it denied responsibility. Suspicion then shifted to its rival, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Both Palestinian splinter groups had a bone to pick with Kenya for its role in the successful Entebbe raid of 1976. Although the PFLP had carried out the hijacking, the PLO and other organisations were opposed to any country seen as cozying up to the Jewish state. At the time, a local Jewish firm known as Block Hotels owned and operated the Norfolk Hotel. It was not entirely implausible that the hotel was targeted for its Jewish connections. There are those that believe that Venezuelan international terrorist for hire, Illich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal), being a member of the PFLP had links to this Kenya bombing.

That’s my story. Perhaps more worrying than escaping and therefore surviving the Kenya bombing by a few hours was that for many years of my life I lived in the same London rent controlled building as the Italian fascist Massimo Morsello. 

Massimo Morsello

Italian fascist folk singer and former neighbour of mine Massimo Morsello

Morsello was upstairs neighbour to my grandmother who lived in the Kensington flat for many years, then to various friends who sublet it and finally to myself during my tenure there from 1995. This was the man who founded an Italian far right group and supposedly masterminded the August 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station resulting in the deaths of 85 people. Apparently Morsello cooperated or had links to MI6 (fifth paragraph from the end) and so therefore was never extradited to face justice in Italy.

Bologna station

the 1980 Bologna Train Station bombing

“The only way out for the Italian people is through Fascism, returning the economic sovereignty to the nation, the recreation of the workers’ guilds, and the restoration of the faith in our origins as well as in our future.”

In an interview to a far right British magazine.

Surely, living in the same building as this man, was a greater threat to my security and those around me than narrowly escaping the Kenya bombing in the Norfolk Hotel. How many threats could Morsello have had on his life? He must have loved the Eastern European flower vendors across the road from the front door, the Indian corner shop within a stone’s throw, the Jamaicans manning the Tube station, the South Americans in the coffee shop and the Ethiopian traffic wardens.

The mind races when you consider the near misses that we survive in life, unknowingly or not. It makes you think of the inevitable relation of life and the butterfly effect where a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever. Two events in 1980 which must have had a bearing on my life.




About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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