Tags: Kenyan | Cops | Nab | Israeli | Terror | Probe

Kenyan Cops Nab 12 in Israeli Terror Probe

Friday, 29 November 2002 12:00 AM

"We believe there are Muslims in the group," Police Commissioner Philemon Abong'o said of those in custody. "We are not saying they're suspects yet," he added, saying some had not been able to explain their identities or backgrounds when questioned.

Abong'o did not give the names or nationalities of those detained. But the State Department in Washington told United Press International that two of them were a U.S. citizen and her resident alien husband, and that a consular official was on his way to Mombasa. U.S. officials said the two were backpacking in the area.

CNN reported the remaining 10 were six Pakistanis and four Somalis, but there was confusion about their identities. The British Broadcasting Corp. said one of them was a Kenyan national. The Kenyan paper Daily Nation said five Pakistanis and two Somalis -- arrested earlier because of suspicions about their passports, which had all been issued on the same day in the Somali capital Mogadishu -- were being questioned in relation to the attacks.

Acrid smoke still hung in the air at the Paradise Hotel, where rescue workers found another corpse Friday, bringing the death toll to 16, including the three bombers.

In a clear sign of the careful advance planning that went into the deadly operation, the men -- driving a dark, blue-green four-wheel-drive vehicle -- had been spotted in the area about three months ago, said Nyeri Charo, 34, whose neighboring shop and restaurant were also burned to the ground in the attack. They had been driving up and down the dusty road near the beach for several weeks, taking pictures of the hotel's common areas.

Charo said they were of Arab or Somali appearance.

"They filmed the hotel, and now we know what their motive was," he added bitterly, ashes swirling around him from the fire that destroyed his shop. "The guards were afraid. I don't know if they told the police or not."

Thursday, the three came back to blow up the resort.

Witnesses say they saw the four-wheel-drive burst through the hotel gate around 8:35 a.m. One man got out of the car and blew himself up inside the hotel while the others detonated explosives in the vehicle.

Of the other dead, three were Israelis, the apparent targets of the attack. A 61-year-old man and two adolescent brothers aged 12 and 13. The other 10 were Kenyans -- mostly members of a traditional dance troupe welcoming a large group of Israeli tourists who had just checked in.

At the city's airport -- where an almost simultaneous attack Thursday saw two shoulder launched missiles narrowly miss a Tel Aviv-bound airliner -- Israeli planes evacuated more than 200 of their nationals, including the wounded and dead, the Daily Nation reported on its Web site.

The paper said that several vans carrying the evacuees and escorted by Kenyan and Israeli security police arrived during the course of the night and were flown back to Israel.

FBI investigators immediately flew to the coast from the capital Nairobi. The bureau investigated the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in neighboring Tanzania, in 1998 that killed 226 people and injured more than 5,000.

The United States blamed the al Qaida network for those attacks.

"We have a certain amount of expertise on the coast following the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, so we might be sharing knowledge," said Tom Hart, a U.S. embassy spokesman.

U.S. officials will join Israeli investigators who were among more than 160 military, security and medical personnel the Jewish state flew in to Mombasa airport overnight.

Despite a claim of responsibility faxed to a Lebanese TV station by a previously unheard of group calling itself the Army of Palestine, the shadow of suspicion immediately fell on al Qaida -- both because of their previous activities in the region, and because of the sophisticated precision planning required to co-ordinate two strikes at the same time.

The bombs at the U.S. embassies in 1998 went off almost simultaneously.

A U.S. defense official in March said members of al Ittihad al Islamia, a Somalia group said to receive financing from al Qaida, were operating in Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

And an al Qaida suspect from Yemen, Hassan Omar Hussein, was arrested trying to get into Kenya in September, according to the BBC. A Kenyan, Mubarak Salim Mubarak, was accused of helping him and was released on bail.

If al Qaida is behind the attacks, it will be the first time the group has struck at Israeli targets.

The attack comes as about 180 U.S. Marines from a carrier group in the region came ashore in Lamu to train with Kenyan troops. The Marines are part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a group of warships off the coast of Djibouti in the Red Sea near the Gulf of Aden.

The missiles apparently used in the attack on the Arkia airliner -- a boeing 757-300 -- were said by several experts who saw pictures of them to be Soviet-made SA-7, or Strelas.

According to Jane's Defense Web site, it is a shoulder-launched heat-seeking missile of the simple 'fire-and-forget' type that requires little training or skill to use. It was first developed in 1969. But the Web site adds that the missile's sensors can easily be saturated by false targets like solar reflections from clouds, causing it to "go wildly off course."

Nonetheless, that fact that both missiles missed the jetliner gave rise to speculation in the Israeli media Friday that it had been equipped with some kind of electronic countermeasures equipment, like that used by combat aircraft.

"Israel has been working on programs to protect civil aviation from terrorist missile attacks since the 1970s," Yigal Eyal, a Hebrew University lecturer on insurgency and former Israeli intelligence agent told Ha'aretz.

"This could just be a matter of Strelas being too primitive for the job, and missing," some one described only as "an Israeli security source" told the paper. But Ha'aretz said other experts believed the fact that both projectiles had missed the airliner at an altitude of only 500 feet -- and given its airspeed -- likely showed the plane had special equipment such as flares to confuse the heat-seeking missile.

"This would conform to one passenger's description of a small 'explosion' above one of the plane's wings during the attack, even though the pilot told reporters the missiles passed more than 330 feet away and disappeared into the horizon," Ha'aretz said. "An Arkia spokeswoman said the reported flash of light and accompanying jolt happened at the back of the plane, but declined comment on the discrepancy with the pilot's testimony."

According to the paper, Arkia -- a charter company -- has only two Boeing 757-300s in its fleet, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used one of them for his visit to Washington in May. The company declined to tell Ha'aretz whether the Mombasa flight was the jet used by Sharon and his entourage.

If the attack was the work of al Qaida it will be the second time the network has used the SA-7. In May, a suspected al Qaida member fired a similar missile at a U.S. military jet taking off from Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia. In videotapes obtained by CNN from al Qaida hideouts in Afghanistan, instructors are shown coaching classes of would-be militants in the use of the weapons.

Kenya's coast is predominantly Muslim, with women in black veils and men in white robes and caps offering up a striking contrast to tourists from Europe in halter tops and shorts.

There were protests last year in Mombasa and the capital, Nairobi, against the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The Kenyan government has allied itself with the United States in its war against terror, and the two countries have a military access agreement, including the use of Mombasa port.

There is clearly concern among Kenyan officials that their vital tourist industry may suffer, but any effects of the attack are not likely to be felt for several months until the coastal region swings into tourist high season. One German charter plane cancelled its trip Thursday, but other all other flights continued normally, said John Mugo, Moi International Airport manager.

"We are confident the airport is safe enough," Mugo said. "We're keeping our eyes open."

But Kenya's former tourism and information minister, flying to Mombasa to console the victims, admitted his country needs to do more.

"This is the second bomb attack after the U.S. embassy in 1998," said Stephen Kalanzo Musioka, who recently joined the main opposition party in the run-up to December presidential elections. "We need to tie up the loose security ends."

A businessman who runs a live fish aquarium said he didn't think the blast would hurt his German package tour business, even though the Paradise was less than two miles from his house.

"Germans will still come," Maik Lancleck, 38, said confidently. "This is an attack only against Israelis, but it's crazy, you know."

At least one American who has a vacation house on the coast overlooking the sea said she still feels comfortable in Kenya.

"I fly in and out all the time, and this doesn't make me feel any more unsafe," said Deb Millar, who lives part-time in Kilifi, about five miles away from the blast site.

But Amin Shah, 69, a Kenyan who was flying to Mombasa for the funeral of his nephew, was depressed about the news.

"Security here is already getting bad," Shah said. "This will make outsiders think it's getting much worse."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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"We believe there are Muslims in the group," Police Commissioner Philemon Abong'o said of those in custody. "We are not saying they're suspects yet," he added, saying some had not been able to explain their identities or backgrounds when questioned. Abong'o did not give...
Friday, 29 November 2002 12:00 AM
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