NAIROBI—On a warm Tuesday afternoon here in Kenya’s capital, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Secret Garden Café, a restaurant within an upscale hotel and office complex. The blast shredded the bodies of customers sitting at tables on the restaurant’s ground-floor veranda, threw debris across the grassy courtyard, and shattered windows six floors up.
Minutes after the bombing, gunmen detonated more explosives at the security barrier leading into the development, leaving three cars engulfed in flames. Security-camera footage shows four black-clad men—one of them carrying a large backpack, all armed with assault rifles and wearing vests that held additional magazines of ammunition—walking purposefully into the complex, breaking stride only to aim occasional shots at unseen targets.
The attack is the latest in a series of terrorist incidents in Kenya in recent years that have shaken the country, and that offer lessons internationally, not just in the difficulty of containing the blowback from a decision to intervene in a neighboring conflict, but also in how a government can overhaul a security apparatus to better respond to such an assault.
When Tuesday’s attack began, shortly after 3 p.m. with the suicide bombing, Caroline Muhati was eating a late lunch by a balcony at one of the office buildings inside the complex. “I thought maybe it’s a fault in the electricity,” the 23-year-old, who was just a few days into her new job as an office cleaner, told me. “But then I heard gunshots.”