Tags: Terror | Attacks | Kenya | Target | Israelis | Are | Killed

Terror Attacks in Kenya Target Israelis, 14 Are Killed

Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM

Those killed at the Paradise Hotel included three Israelis -- two of them adolescent brothers -- and nine Kenyans -- including members of a dance troop who were welcoming a large group of Israelis who had just checked in -- according to Kenyan and Israeli officials.

Three men of Arab origin driving a jeep crashed through a security barrier into the hotel lobby at about 8:30 a.m. local time, according to a statement from the Kenyan authorities.

The statement said the three bombers were among the dead and that about 80 people had been injured, including 18 Israelis. The two adolescents killed were identified as Dvir Anter, 13, and his younger brother, Noy, 12.

Some of the wounded were being treated at the Mombasa hospital, according to Zubeida Dedani, director of patient services. A doctor at Coast General Hospital in Mombasa said that 40 injured people, three in critical condition, were being treated there, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

An Israeli guest, Nimrod Grissario, a psychologist who had gone there with his daughter, said the explosion occurred the minute they entered their room.

"There was a huge explosion that blew up the lobby and the floor with the rooms," he said. It shattered the glass wall facing the Indian Ocean and caused a fire that gutted the building.

Five minutes later, two men fired two shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles at an Israeli Arkia charter flight taking off from Moi International Airport, Mombasa, about 18 miles away. The plane -- a Boeing 757-300 with 264 passengers and 10 crew on board -- was headed for Tel Aviv. The pilot, Captain Rafi Marek, 46, told reporters the departure of the regular weekly charter flight had been "normal."

"As we retracted the landing gear we felt a bump, similar to a small bird's strike at the bottom of the aircraft," Marek said. He had been at an altitude of some 500 feet, he estimated.

He then saw, "Two white stripes coming at the left, passing from behind (the aircraft) to the front and disappearing after a few seconds."

The Kenyan government statement said the men had positioned themselves north of the airport, just over a mile outside the perimeter. The missile launchers were recovered by the police, but the attackers escaped in a white SUV.

Despite a claim of responsibility from a previously unknown group -- "Army of Palestine" -- faxed to a Lebanese TV station, the shadow of suspicion immediately fell on the international al Qaida terror network.

The Kenyan ambassador to Israeli, John Malan Sawe, told Israeli Army Radio "there is no doubt in my mind" that al Qaida was behind the attacks.

However, asked about the perpetrators, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Ron Prosor said, "We are not into the blame game at this stage."

Frank Gardner, the BBC's security correspondent, pointed out that, "coordinated, synchronised attacks are a hallmark of al Qaida, and ... months of careful surveillance clearly went into (these) attacks."

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

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told reporters at the defense ministry in Tel Aviv the effort to shoot down a civilian airliner represented "an escalation" of terror "which crosses moral and territorial borders."

"Our long arm will get (the perpetrators)," he warned, ordering a medical and military team in several Hercules C-130 transport planes to depart immediately. The team -- including military and civilian medical personnel, forensic laboratory technicians and commando rescue troops -- will help with rescue work at the hotel, with the treatment and evacuation of the wounded and dead, and with the investigation.

Some of the airliner's passengers quickly realized they had been attacked. Uriel Cohen, 50, of Moshav Elyashiv told United Press International he was sitting on the left side, looking out the window at Kenyan soldiers guarding among the trees when he suddenly noticed a missile racing upwards.

"The missile passed under the left wing, sort of gave a jolt and continued," he reported.

But several passengers said there was no panic in the plane and they realized what had happened only much later when the pilot reported the attack as the airplane entered Israeli airspace, adding the plane was not damaged.

They applauded, and some burst into tears, after landing safely at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

Arkia's President Israel Borovich told United Press International, "The aircraft is completely clean. In an hour it is going to London on a regular flight," he added. An aviation reporter who inspected the plane after it landed told UPI it wasn't scratched.

Avshalom Matsrafti of Hadera, a city that has several times been the site of Palestinian attacks, told UPI he had gone to Kenya to celebrate his 55th birthday.

"We went from bad to worse. I witnessed five attacks and this terror chases us to the end of the world," he said.

Several hours after the attacks, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported two suspects had been arrested in Mombasa. It quoted Omar Shuria, the deputy police commander of Coast Province, as saying that the two were being interrogated.

In Nairobi, security officials sealed off the Israeli-owned Fairview Hotel, the Financial Times' Web site reported.

All airports in the country were placed on high alert, according to a statement from the Kenya Airports Authority.

Security in Kenyan wildlife parks was reportedly stepped up as well.

But Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi -- in an apparent effort to head of the decimation of the country's vital tourist industry -- insisted "the security situation was now normal," since the government was taking "full measures" to ensure the security of Kenyans and foreign visitors.

In a statement issued through Kenyan TV, he encouraged tourists to "continue with their booking of hotels as security agents were on full alert." The statement added he had sent a message of condolence to the families, relatives and friends of those killed.

Nairobi, and the capital of neighboring Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, were the sites of two terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in 1998, in which at least 224 people died and almost 4,600 were injured.

Kenya's coast is heavily Muslim, and 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.

The attacks in Kenya came as Israelis went to the polls for a primary election, in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon successfully beat off a challenge to the leadership of the right-wing Likud Party.

"Terror does not look for reasons to harm Jews," he told a press conference in Tel Aviv before his victory. "However, today the terror has another aim. The aim of Arab terror today is to influence the Israeli elections, our democratic process."

Kenya was also preparing for an election that is to be held on Dec. 27. President Moi, in power for more than two decades, is to step down.

In Washington, the United States condemned the attacks and said it was ready to offer whatever assistance was needed to the Israelis and the Kenyans.

"I want to extend my condolences to the victims and their families, and to the governments and peoples of Israel and Kenya," President George W. Bush said in a statement. "Today's attacks underscore the continuing willingness of those opposed to peace to commit horrible crimes."

There were conflicting reports about the missiles used.

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz identified them as anti-aircraft Strella missiles, but other reports said they were Stingers.

The Strella is a Russian-built weapon. It carries designations beginning with SA, such as SA-7 or SA-14. It has a range of 2 to 3 miles and is effective against targets flying below 8,000 feet.

According to a Jerusalem Post article in May, 1997, which discussed the Israeli army's efforts to reduce danger from these weapons, it is a heat-seeking missile that doesn't require radar guidance. It is also a "simple fire-and-forget operation" that requires little training to use. The Post said Hezbollah rebels in Lebanon had such missiles.

During the 1980's, Stinger missiles were supplied to Islamic extremists fighting the Russians in Afghanistan by the United States.

On Nov. 22, the Web site Salon.com reported that U.S. security and aviation officials recently "met secretly with top airline officials to discuss the risk that high-tech portable missiles might be used against commercial jets."

Salon said: "According to sources who attended it, the meeting was convened ... on the afternoon of Election Day, Nov. 5." It listed Transportation Safety Administration head James Loy, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, officials of the Office of Homeland Security, and "a group of 25 airline chief executive officers" as attending.

The 25 carriers involved weren't identified.

The discussion was held "in a secure conference room in the Department of Transportation building in Washington," and it discussed "the growing and intractable threat that shoulder-fired infrared-homing missiles pose to crowded commercial jets" at U.S. airports, Salon said.

Also Thursday, the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, announced that they were investigating what they called "unverified reports of what appeared to be a contrail of unknown origin," near the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean on Wednesday.

"Initially, (the contrail) was reported to be heading northwestward toward the United States," at about 4 p.m. EST according to a statement issued by the US. Department of Defense. It added that airline pilots later reported it over Florida and then Indiana.

NORAD said it had scrambled jet fighters to investigate, but that no radar or visual contact with the source had been made.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Those killed at the Paradise Hotel included three Israelis -- two of them adolescent brothers -- and nine Kenyans -- including members of a dance troop who were welcoming a large group of Israelis who had just checked in -- according to Kenyan and Israeli...
Thursday, 28 November 2002 12:00 AM
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