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US signals staff cut at Nairobi embassy over terror threats

17 May 2014, 17:32

Nairobi - The United States signaled Saturday that it could cut staff levels at its Nairobi embassy because of the mounting threat of attacks in Kenya by Islamist militants.

A statement from the US ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, said the embassy was "continuously reviewing and updating its security measures, and expects to take additional steps in coming days, to include on US staffing."

"Unfortunately, the US government continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at both Kenyans and the international community," Godec said.

"The most important responsibility of every US ambassador and embassy is to protect American citizens and to keep them informed."

The statement comes amid a wave of bomb attacks in Kenya's capital Nairobi and port city of Mombasa that authorities have blamed on militants connected to Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels.

On Friday a double bomb attack in a Nairobi market left 10 dead and scores wounded.

According to US embassy staff, security around the embassy has already been stepped up and certain departments currently based inside the compound may be relocated to embassies in neighbouring Tanzania or Ethiopia, which are seen as far lower risk.

Embassy staff said the ambassador has already signalled internally this week that the "footprint" of the Nairobi embassy, which has more than 1,000 staff, would be reduced -- although the statement from the ambassador insisted that "we remain open for normal operations and have no plan to close."

At least 200 people were killed when Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi in 1998, and US diplomats then moved to a more secure compound outside the city centre.

Any decision to cut staff at the US embassy would be another major blow to Kenya's position as an east African regional hub for embassies and businesses -- who already have to deal with rampant crime including burglaries, muggings and carjackings.

"If the Americans decide to make a structural adjustment rather than a temporary relocation of staff, then other countries are certain to follow. It shows they know something and haven't been reassured by the Kenyan authorities," a European diplomat, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

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