“When we heard the first blast, we asked ourselves, ‘What’s that? Is that a tire [bursting]?” Doreen Oport, a Kenyan national who worked in the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi said of the day that that it was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists in August 1998.
One of her coworkers inched towards the windows, even though Oport urged her to take cover.
“I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ and before I could say anything else, the bomb went off…We got pinned down on the floor with metal bars from the ceiling,” she said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “There was a lot of debris, and we could not move at all… and it was pitch dark. The lights had gone off. The only thing we could hear was other employees screaming and trying to run.”
Oport, who sustained serious back injuries, was one of about 5,000 who were injured in the coordinated attack on the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. More than 200 people, including 12 Americans, were killed in what is considered to be one of the deadliest attacks on American soil, since embassies are technically under the jurisdiction of the state they represent.
Seventeen years after the grisly attack, survivors — foreign nationals and Americans alike — are still waiting for compensation for the losses and injuries they suffered because of them. The issue isn’t that funds are not available to them. It’s that the U.S. government has essentially refused monetary compensation to survivors and told them to enter their claims into a website, despite the fact that their testimony already has been used to apprehend banks that helped finance the terrorist attacks that forever changed their lives.
Although the government covered some immediate medical expenses, survivors say they require further assistance to help with the physical and emotional toll the attacks took on them, since they were employed by the U.S. government and technically on U.S. territory when they occured.
“[The U.S. government] paid me only $30 for my jacket because I lost my jacket in the building,” Francis Maina Ndibui, another Kenyan who worked in the Embassy said. “That’s the only compensation that I got from them.”
Survivors felt a degree of respite when a U.S. district court awarded them a total of $907 million in compensation for the emotional and physical injuries they suffered due to the bombings. That March 2014 decision against the governments of Iran and Sudan, however, proved difficult to enforce, though the presiding judge found that Al Qaeda would not have been able to carry out the Embassy attacks without the assistance of Sudan.
That Al Qaeda-Sudan connection made survivors feel hopeful that they might earn a share of nearly $9 billion forfeited by a French bank that laundered money through three state sponsors of terror including Sudan.
“The Department of Justice would not have been able to take the bank to court if it was not for the testimony of the victims,” Oport said.
In July 2014, BNP Paribas pled guilty to the charge of violating sanctions and paid a record amount to the U.S. government as a penalty for knowingly engaging in the criminal act.
No portion of billions paid by sanctions-violating banks has gone to the victims of terrorist attacks, though some has been used to buy cops new tablets and repair a New York state bridge. That’s despite the fact that a U.S. attorney who works on money laundering and forfeiture issues told the judge who presided over the BNP Paribas case that some of the funds could go to terror victims.
“There’s a process by which victims of crimes can make petitions for remission, to be able to be compensated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein said.
There is no clear process or public oversight on how forfeited money is dealt with — and what portion of it is handed over to the victims of related crimes. Those decisions lie with the U.S. Attorney General.
Still, survivors of the Embassy bombings felt hopeful that a portion of the forfeiture would be channeled to them after the sentencing hearing for BNP Paribas in May.
Those hopes were again dashed, however, when a judge called on survivors to enter their claims into a Department of Justice website for anyone who feels that they’ve been the victims of terrorism.
“These people came from Nairobi,” Bill Wheeler, a lawyer for the survivors said after the sentencing hearing. “After 17 years of waiting, the government says, ‘We’ll put up a website and think about it for 90 days’?”
Doreen Oport said that she found it incredibly frustrating “to know that…the Department of Justice is now not doing anything and telling us to go to a website and put our stories in there when our attorneys have already taken our depositions and we have already done everything [asked of us].”
Instead, she and other survivors are taking their stories and their quest for compensation to lawmakers, now that she, Francis Maina Ndibui, and other survivors have moved to the U.S. and become U.S. citizens.
This week, they met with several Congress and appealed to them to pressure the Department of Justice to process compensation to victims of the 1998 Embassy bombings in a timely fashion — now that they’ve already waited 17 years.
“The money is there and we victims, we continue to suffer,” Oport said. “Nothing has been done for us.”